To put into perspective what Ironi Kiryat Shmona is aspiring to achieve,
consider this: Since 1990, only one Premier League championship title has been
claimed by a club outside of the traditional big four.
Maccabi Haifa (9
titles), Betar Jerusalem (5 titles), Maccabi Tel Aviv (4 titles) and Hapoel Tel
Aviv (2 titles) have dominated Israeli soccer for the past two decades, usually
challenging for silverware even when failing to win it.
The exception to
what has become the rule in the Premier League was Hapoel Haifa, which took the
championship in 1998/99.
However, Haifa had been one of the league’s
biggest spenders in the years leading up to its triumph, courtesy of the backing
of the late Robi Shapira.
So in fact, the last real small club to win the
championship was actually Bnei Yehuda of Tel Aviv’s Hatikva neighborhood way
back in the 1989/90 season.
Israeli soccer was just entering a new modern
age, with top-flight clubs being allowed to sign foreign players for the first
time, but no more than two.
Israel’s national team was still two years
away from joining European soccer’s governing body UEFA, with the blue-and-white
still playing its World Cup qualifiers against opponents from
Israeli soccer and sports in general have changed to such an
extent that if you wanted to see your team play in 1990 you had to actually go
to the stadium, unless you were lucky enough to have your beloved club featured
in the one and only match that was broadcasted live every week.
Kiryat Shmona didn’t even exist in 1990.
In fact, it wasn’t until 2000
that businessman Izzy Sheratzky, the owner of Ituran, decided to take control of
the city’s two tiny team’s, Hapoel and Maccabi, and set up a club with the
target of reaching the top-flight and one day becoming a factor in the
Kiryat Shmona was promoted to the Premier League for the first
time in its history in 2007, with Ran Ben- Shimon guiding it to the National
League championship in his first season at the helm.
first top-flight campaign was nothing short of sensational, with the team
finishing in third place and qualifying for the UEFA Cup.
Ben-Shimon left that summer to coach Maccabi Tel Aviv, only to be sacked just
eight matches into the campaign.
He returned to Kiryat Shmona the
following April, but couldn’t help the side avoid relegation to the second
But he guided the team right back to the Premier League in the
subsequent season and has now got his sights set on a far bigger
When Kiryat Shmona first achieved promotion Sheratzky said that
within 10 years the team will win the league title and play in the Champions
It has been somewhat of a rollercoaster ride for the club’s fans
since, but with one round of matches completed in 2011/12, it seems Sheratzky
might actually live up to his promise in half the time he
Monday’s 1-0 victory over Hapoel Tel Aviv took Kiryat Shmona
above the Reds into first place in the standings with almost half the season
Barak Badash’s 76th minute winner at the municipal
stadium gave Kiryat Shmona its eighth win in nine matches, extending its
unbeaten streak to 13 games.
Kiryat Shmona has lost just once so far this
season, while Hapoel has already dropped three matches and reigning-champion
Maccabi Haifa and heavy-spending Maccabi Tel Aviv have fallen five and six
Ben-Shimon’s team has a mere twopoint gap over
Hapoel, but it has already opened a 10 and 11 point margin over two of the
initial favorites for the title in Haifa and Maccabi.
The question is:
Can Kiryat Shmona keep it up and lift the league title? A quick look at the
club’s humble and cheaply assembled squad raises many doubts regarding the
Goalkeeper Danny Amos wasn’t even deemed to be good
enough to start regularly for Kiryat Shmona last season, while many thought that
37-year-old defensive anchor Salah Hasarma should have retired long
Adrian Rochet and Ravid Gazal are extremely useful midfielders and
Shimon Abu Hazeira and Badash are certainly gifted forwards.
But on the
face of it, Kiryat Shmona is nevertheless seriously lacking in talent for a team
that aims to win the championship.
Ben-Shimon knows that, saying after
Monday’s win that he plans to sign a couple of players in the January transfer
However, far more importantly, he has every faith that his
current squad gives him
the foundation to go all the way.
the man responsible for Kiryat Shmona playing far better than the sum of its
parts and only he truly knows his team’s potential.
With Maccabi Haifa
and Maccabi Tel Aviv suffering extremely disappointing starts to their seasons
and Hapoel Tel Aviv erratic at best, Kiryat Shmona may have a unique opportunity
to take the championship.
If the first round of matches has taught us
anything, it is that any team underestimating Kiryat Shmona does so at its own
It may still be hard to believe that Kiryat Shmona will actually
complete the job, but Ben-Shimon and his players are confident they can
accomplish what has been deemed to be impossible and no one can convince them
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