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Jerusalem sporting icon Yossi Mizrahi is finally gaining the recognition he deserves at Ashdod SC.

Yossi Mizrahi 521 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Yossi Mizrahi 521
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
It is a mystery why it has taken 17 years for Yossi Mizrahi to finally get the credit he deserves. After all, he led Beitar Jerusalem to the Premier League championship in 2006/07 and had recorded relative success at unheralded clubs of the likes of Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Jerusalem.
But for all his accomplishments, Mizrahi has never been regarded as one of Israel’s top coaches.
That could all change this season.
After the first round of Premier League action, Mizrahi’s Ashdod SC is sitting in an extremely impressive and unexpected third place, picking up 30 points from 15 matches.
Ashdod’s 2-1 victory at Bnei Sakhnin last Saturday was its fifth on the trot, with Mizrahi’s team undefeated in its last nine matches.
Ashdod is not only winning its games, but it is doing so with often inspired play against supposedly superior opponents.
Mizrahi is the undoubted mastermind behind Ashdod’s success, and despite not resorting to self-promotion like many of his counterparts, he is finally receiving the accolades he should have gotten long ago.
The Jerusalem sporting icon still travels to Ashdod daily from the capital, refusing to move from his beloved city.
The 58-year-old Mizrahi was born in the Katamon neighborhood and is still remembered as one of Beitar Jerusalem’s greatest goalkeepers. He played for the club for 14 seasons between 1974 and 1988, winning one championship and four State Cups with the yellow-and-black.
Mizrahi also began his coaching career at Beitar, first as an assistant to Amatzia Levkovich and then as a head coach in the 1994/95 season.
However, Beitar looked elsewhere at the end of the campaign and he went on to guide Hapoel Jerusalem, leading it to Premier League promotion. He built a cohesive team with a minimal budget, and in his four seasons at the club he also guided it to the cup final in 1998.
Mizrahi left for Maccabi Petah Tikva the following season and took the modest club to a fourth-place finish in the first of his two years at the helm before leading it to the cup final in 2001.
He returned to a struggling Beitar for the 2001/02 season, but yet again was given little credit by the club he helped make famous, being sacked after 17 matches.
Mizrahi’s talents at least didn’t go unnoticed by Avraham Grant, who brought him in as an assistant coach when he was named as Israel boss.
After two years under Grant, Mizrahi began his love affair with Ashdod.
He helped keep the team in the top flight and led it to the cup semis in 2003/04.
In October 2006, Beitar came calling for his services, once more only approaching Mizrahi when few others wanted the job.
Ossie Ardiles became the fourth coach to be sacked in a year by owner Arkadi Gaydamak, and Mizrahi was brought aboard to steady the ship.
He settled Gaydamak’s ego-heavy squad and helped Beitar to its first league title since 1998.
But yet again, he got little respect for his achievements and didn’t have his contract renewed for the subsequent season.
Mizrahi rebounded immediately, guiding Maccabi Petah Tikva for three months before leaving for Cyprus’s Apollon Limassol.
He enjoyed every minute on the sunny island, far from the pressures of Israeli soccer, but he missed his family and returned to Ashdod for the 2008/09 season.
Mizrahi led Ashdod to a sixth-place finish and the cup semis the following year, but he stunned everyone by leaving the club in the summer of 2010.
However, it soon became apparent why he had bolted the promising side he had built when it was announced that he will work under Avi Nimni at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Nimni was looking for an authority figure for the expensive team he was building at Maccabi and Mizrahi seemed to be the perfect man for the job.
But new Maccabi owner Mitch Goldhar had little patience to wait and see if Mizrahi’s work would bear fruit, with both he and Nimni being fired in January of this year.
In April, he came to the struggling Ashdod’s rescue and ensured it maintained its Premier League status for another year.
This season has been outstanding almost throughout, with Ashdod especially strong in its home games, winning seven of eight encounters at the Yud-Alef Stadium.
Making Ashdod’s scintillating form all the more impressive is the fact that it is achieving it with a team made largely of products of the club’s youth department, as dictated by owner Jacky Ben-Zaken.
Ben-Zaken tried buying his way to victories in previous years, but after becoming disillusioned with seeing his expensive players underperform, he decided to put faith in his youth players, for better or for worse.
Ben-Zaken funneled funds into the club’s infrastructure, building new training grounds as well as a youth academy, instead of splashing out on costly recruits.
In a league where the vast majority of the clubs stagger from crisis to crisis, Ashdod has proven under Mizrahi’s guidance that success can be achieved not just via outlandish spending, but also through the nurturing of home-grown talent.
“I always believed we could do very well,” Mizrahi said after last week’s win at Sakhnin. “When you work hard it is only natural the results will follow. We have only completed the first round of matches and it is important we maintain continuity.
We need to continue to nurture the young players because if we get overconfident we will quickly find ourselves in the bottom half of the standings. The key for us will be to try to think like a top team.”
That will not be an easy task for Ashdod, which has spent its entire history thinking like a small team, content to settle for mere survival.
But the early signs could not be more positive, with Ashdod seemingly going from strength to strength.
It still seems highly unlikely the team will win a historic championship or cup, but Ashdod at the very least warrants its current success for showing the way forward for the rest of Israeli soccer.
And lest we forget the man who deserves the most recognition, Yossi Mizrahi, once underrated but finally valued.