Sinai Says: Another swooning start has Haifa’s Benado on the chopping block

Haifa needs to wake up to the new reality and adjust to it as soon as possible. Otherwise, the nightmare will just continue to repeat itself.

By
November 6, 2013 01:42
Mac Haifa coach Arik Benado.

Mac Haifa coach Arik Benado 370. (photo credit: Uzi Gal)

There is no shame in not finishing first. After all, only one team can win the championship, and a club such as Maccabi Haifa has to be realistic when looking at itself in the mirror against some of the other top Israeli sides.

However, when a once-perennial contender like the Greens fail repeatedly, something significant is usually being overlooked.

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It is the coach who remarkably often pays the price.

After another dismal start to a season, Haifa’s Arik Benado has found himself cast in the role of the scapegoat, and if matters don’t improve soon, he to will be sent to the wilderness, just like his predecessor Reuven Atar.

Benado replaced Atar last November after Haifa’s favorite son collapsed under the weight of expectations. Only a few months into a three-year contract, Atar was sent packing and the appointment of his successor seemed initially like a genius decision.

Club owner Jacob Shachar elected to promote from within, arguably for financial reasons, following the sacking of Atar and named Benado as the boss of the senior side after only a couple of months as the coach of the club’s youth team.

Atar was fired after the team had picked up just seven points from its first nine matches, losing in four of them.

Haifa lost just three of the campaign’s remaining 26 league matches under Benado’s charge, ending the season in second place.

Everything seemed to be in place for Haifa to contend for the Premier League title once more this term, but its challenge has yet again unraveled just two months into the campaign.

Haifa began the season with a promising 3-1 win over Ironi Kiryat Shmona, which came on the back of five victories in six matches in Europa League qualification.

However, it has since won just one match in all competitions, suffering humbling 1-0 defeats to Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Ra’anana in its past two local matches.

Haifa registered just one shot on target throughout the entire match against Ra’anana and failed to find the back of the net for the fifth time in eight league encounters in 2013/14.

The Greens remained in 10th place in the standings with just eight points from eight games.

Nevertheless, Benado insisted that he remains optimistic.

“I feel that I have the capabilities to lead the team out of this situation,” he said. “If I will be told that I’m not the man for this job then so be it. But I will do everything to help the team out of this state.”

Benado’s words and body language seem remarkably reminiscent of Atar’s exactly one year ago and there was no happy ending to that story.

There are several other similarities between their situations, with Atar using 23 different players in his nine league games in charge of Haifa, while Benado has so far implemented 22 players in eight matches.

Both coaches clearly began to panic and experiment far too early on in the season, adding momentum to the snowball effect.

But unlike Atar, Benado has also got the added difficulty of competing in the Europa League group stage. Haifa impressed in the qualifiers, outscoring its opponents 16-1.

However, the additional continental contests have made life all the more difficult for Benado, who will need to tackle a tough encounter against PAOK Thessaloniki in Europa action on Thursday before turning his attention back to what is truly important, Monday’s league game with Beitar Jerusalem.

With just a single victory from the past 11 games in Israel and abroad, Haifa players look like they don’t believe they will ever win another match again.

Despite league-leader Maccabi Tel Aviv suffering its first loss of the season on Monday, falling 3-2 at Hapoel Beersheba, no one at Haifa has any illusions of competing for the championship this season.

“Our goals have changed,” admitted Benado on Saturday. “We are in the bottom half of the standings and to talk about lofty goals would be wrong. We have a good squad which should be leading us elsewhere.

“I’m not talking about a championship but about a completely different place to where we are at the moment.”

It remains to be seen if Benado will guide the team out of this crisis or soon follow in the footsteps of Atar.

However, that is quite irrelevant to the midto- long-term future of the club.

With Haifa also lagging behind early in the title race in 2011/12 under Elisha Levy, this is the third straight year the club has lost hope of recording any significant success due to a nightmare start to the season.

And when a nightmare repeats itself time and time again, there is usually a major problem being ignored.

Shachar and those running the club have been deceiving themselves in recent seasons that their team will continue to dominate the league forever the way it did between 2001 and 2011, winning seven of 11 championships.

Shachar refused to match Arkadi Gaydamak’s spending spree between 2005 and 2008, and despite seeing Beitar Jerusalem claim two straight championships (2007-08), his instincts proved to be correct with the Russian oligarch quickly losing interest and leaving his club in shambles.

However, the case of Maccabi Tel Aviv owner Mitch Goldhar is completely different, with the Jewish-Canadian billionaire not only having far deeper pockets than Gaydamak, but also a far more methodical and long-term approach.

Goldhar began to reap the fruits of his investment when Maccabi won its first championship in 10 years last season and it already seems like no team will be able to stop the yellow-and-blue from defending its title.

Haifa used to have a financial edge over its rivals, especially over the long run due to Shachar’s steady investment, but that hasn’t been the case for quite a while.

While it probably still has the best facilities in the country and a successful youth team, homegrown talent has struggled to find its way into the lineup for several years.

Assuming Shachar has no intention of surpassing or even equaling the budget of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Haifa needs to find another course of action that will help it close the financial gap.

Replacing coaches on a yearly basis will not do the trick.

Haifa needs to wake up to the new reality and adjust to it as soon as possible. Otherwise, the nightmare will just continue to repeat itself.

allon@jpost.com


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