The Last Word: New brooms could sweep Netanya or Mac TA to the title

There was a need for a change and Gaydamak hasn't been able to achieve it.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit:)
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
Talk about a managerial merry go round! Eight of the 12 teams competing in the Israeli Premier League for the next eight months will begin the season with a different coach to last term. From the big name European star Lothar Matthaus, who came to Maccabi Netanya with the millions pumped into the club by owner Daniel Jammer, to former Hapoel Jerusalem coach Michel Dayan at Ironi Kiryat Shmona, it's been all change in Israeli soccer over the summer. While there are the obvious negative connotations of a lack of stability, it is these changes which could very well instigate the most exciting and open title race for many years. OK, two years ago I was saying the same thing after Maccabi Haifa's five-year dominance appeared to be on the way out. Little did we know just how dominant Betar Jerusalem would be as the team bankrolled by Arcadi Gaydamak stormed to two consecutive league championship wins including last season's league and cup double. However, change is nearly always good for soccer fans wanting to see true competition, and the influence of two other wealthy foreign Premier League club owners has shaken up the previously rigid system. Since taking over at Netanya in 2006 Jammer has slowly but surely taken the team from a former great to a title contender. The introduction of former World Cup winning Germany captain Matthaus is proof of intent - Jammer wants more than the second place finishes previous coach Reuven Atar achieved both of the last two seasons. The way Atar was let go seemed harsh, but he was at the end of his contract and it is the prerogative of the owner to choose his staff. Matthaus has been criticized for not having an impressive resume, but the league titles he won as a coach in Serbia and Austria speak for themselves. And his no-nonsense German style, coupled with his vast European experience as a player, will only have a positive impact on the team. Jammer isn't the only foreign billionaire to have dipped his toes into the waters of Israeli soccer. Former Formula One team owner Canadian Alex Shnaider shocked the sports world in December last year when he bought Maccabi Tel Aviv FC. The Hebrew-speaking Jewish businessman has kept a relatively low profile since then, and instead of choosing to follow Jammer's lead and go for a big name coach, surprisingly chose to take Ran Ben-Shimon from Ironi Kiryat Shmona to Tel Aviv. The once great Maccabi has been well off the pace in the league in recent seasons and the acquisition of Ben-Shimon could be a smart move. The 38-year-old took Kiryat Shmona on an amazing run to a third-place finish in its maiden Premier League campaign last season, proving his nous and tactical knowledge along the way. There is a new, assured atmosphere at Kiryat Shalom and the addition of former Bnei Sakhnin strike force Maor Buzaglo and Ilya Yavorian will make Maccabi a daunting prospect for any opposition. One other team which has changed its coach but without the influence of a new owner is Maccabi Haifa, and the Greens should definitely not be discounted. New Haifa coach Elisha Levy is a wily character who has already brought the best out of his players in preseason, especially Colomobian midfielder John Culma who he brought with him from Sakhnin. Roni Levy quit after five years as coach and the new broom of the new Levy will raise the stakes at Haifa. So what about Betar Jerusalem? Three weeks ago the Teddy faithful were also expecting to see a new coach on the sidelines in time for the opening game away to Bnei Sakhnin on Sunday. But it turns out Gaydamak was being somewhat economical with the truth when he claimed Luis Fernandez had all but agreed to return to Jerusalem and so Itzhak Schum will continue. The lack of a change is the one thing which could prevent Betar winning a third league title in a row. The 5-0 defeat at Wisla Krakow in a Champions League qualifier earlier this month has knocked the club for six, breaking the team's confidence and concentration. There was a need for a change and Gaydamak hasn't been able to achieve it. Jerusalem may have the best squad in the league but without self-belief the smart money will be on Netanya or Maccabi Tel Aviv lifting the league trophy in May next year. jeremylast@gmail.com