Israeli national soccer team coach Eli Gutman speaks to reporters.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Eli Gutman’s four-year tenure as Israel coach officially came to an end on Wednesday morning, a day after the national team’s Euro 2016 qualifying campaign finished in bitter disappointment.
Gutman’s departure was widely expected following the blue-and-white’s failure to reach the playoffs, with Israel ending qualifying Group B in fourth place after losing 3-1 to Belgium in its final match in Brussels on Tuesday.
The national team harbored hopes of qualifying automatically for next summer’s European Championships in France after opening the campaign with three straight wins for the first time since joining UEFA 23 years ago.
However, it picked up just four of a possible 21 points from its final seven qualifiers, and not only failed to finish among the top two in the group, but also missed out on third position and a place in the playoffs.
With Israel also coming up short in its attempt to reach the World Cup in 2014 in Gutman’s first campaign in charge, there was little doubt his contract wouldn’t be renewed ahead of World Cup 2018 qualification.
Gutman, however, chose to make the first move and notified Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini that he will be leaving following Tuesday’s match in Brussels.
“I had the great privilege of guiding the Israel national team in the past two campaigns,” said Gutman, who also thanked the IFA and the Israeli people for their support.
“This remains the professional summit for every Israeli coach. I will take advantage of the coming period in order to analyze the past campaign and my time as the national team coach, and to recharge my batteries, before choosing a new course.”
Eini said the IFA will take time before naming a new coach.
“I’d like to thank Eli Gutman, the professional staff and the players for their efforts during the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign,” he said.
“Even though we eventually didn’t reach the playoffs, I have no doubt that everyone did their best in order to realize the dream. Eli Gutman was, and remains, an excellent coach and I want to wish him great success in the future. I don’t intend to deal in the coming days with the identity of the next Israel coach, but rather seriously and comprehensively assess the right ways in which to promote Israeli soccer and the Israel national teams.”
The national team doesn’t play its first World Cup 2018 qualifier until September 5, 2016 when it hosts Italy.
Following the match in Belgium, and before announcing his departure, Gutman insisted the Euro 2016 campaign shouldn’t be branded as a failure.
“A person who doesn’t try is a failure,” explained Gutman.
“Someone who doesn’t even try can’t succeed. I targeted third place and I didn’t succeed. But the word failure is reserved for those who don’t even try.”
Gutman singled out his tactics for the match against Wales in Haifa in March as his biggest mistake of the campaign.
“After winning three straight matches we decided to try and pressure them but ended up giving them too much space,” said Gutman.
With Israel’s hopes of reaching World Cup 2018 already all but non-existent after being paired with former champions Spain and Italy in qualifying Group G, midfielder Eran Zahavi is hoping the next coach can focus on improving the team’s play rather than just on results.
“We really wanted to qualify this time, but we failed just like the last generation,” said Zahavi. “We shouldn’t set goals or make any statements next time but rather focus on playing better and more positive soccer. If Israel hasn’t reached any major tournament in more than 40 years than maybe the problem goes beyond a given squad.”