Hapoel TA Running 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
To put simply, only a handful of teams in Israeli soccer history can claim to
have had a year as outstanding as the one Hapoel Tel Aviv experienced in
Hapoel not only took the Premier League and State Cup double, but
it also went on to reach the group stage of the Champions League, ending its
first-ever campaign with a respectable five points.
However, what set
this Tel Aviv team apart from so many former champions were not the titles it
collected, but rather the way it did so.
Under the guidance of coach Eli
Gutman, Hapoel developed a swift and accurate short pass game, that at its best
was as delightful as a coordinated dance on the pitch.
teams apart with surgical precision, playing in a way that often brought a smile
to fans’ faces, a feat far more rare than wins or trophies.
It is easy to
forget now, but there were still many questions marks hanging over Gutman’s team
as 2010 began.
Tel Aviv showed its potential at the start of the 2009/10
campaign, but it still trailed a seemingly unstoppable Maccabi Haifa team by
eight points at the beginning of the year and looked unlikely to end the club’s
championship drought that began in 2000.
However, everything would fall
into place for the franchise in 2010.
It could have all gone wrong on so
many occasions, but this Hapoel team was simply destined for
The Israel Football Association’s new point-halving system
helped Tel Aviv cut its deficit from Haifa, but despite that, and the fact that
Hapoel went unbeaten in the final eight months of the season, it was Haifa which
controlled its fate entering the final weekend of the campaign.
Haifa could only draw at Bnei Yehuda and Eran Zahavi’s stoppage time goal
against Betar Jerusalem at Teddy Stadium would secure Hapoel the most dramatic
of league championships.
Tel Aviv crucially managed to hold on to all of
its stars ahead of the 2010/11 Champions League qualifiers, and despite some
nervy minutes against FK Aktobe and Red Bull Salzburg, it always looked on
course to reach the group stage of European’s soccer most prestigious
After a rocky start, which saw the side lose its first three
group matches by a combined goal difference of 2-8, Gutman’s men picked up five
points in the second half of the campaign, which included a 3-0 victory over SL
Benfica and a memorable 2-2 draw at Olympique Lyon.
Despite an erratic
beginning to its Premier League title defense, which included three losses, its
only league defeats of 2010, Hapoel is also currently well placed to take a
second straight championship, trailing Haifa by just two points entering the New
Nevertheless, this Tel Aviv side is unlikely to go on and become a
Defensive anchor Douglas da Silva has already left, moving to
Salzburg for a transfer fee of 2.6 million euros.
Vincent Enyeama, midfield magician Gili Vermut, clutch king Zahavi and the
striking duo of Ben Sahar and Itai Shechter are also all expected to leave in
the coming summer, while Gutman is hoping to land a coaching job abroad or
alternatively be named as Luis Fernandez’s successor as the boss of the Israel
Making matters even more complicated is the ongoing
wrangling between co-owners Moni Harel and Eli Tabib, with both announcing that
they will not continue at the club with the other after this season.
so much uncertainty, it will be almost impossible for Hapoel to maintain its
current level of success or play.
It is unfortunate that this team was
only around for one year, but anyone who saw this Hapoel side at its best will
never forget it, and for that alone it will go down as one of the greatest teams
in Israeli soccer history.