They say that you only have one chance to make a good first impression.
Well, that’s exactly what Barak Bachar has done in Serbia.
The Israeli head coach who helped Maccabi Haifa win three straight championships is as good as advertised and perhaps even better since taking over the reins at Red Star Belgrade, one of soccer’s European giants.
Ever since he landed on the doorstep of 34-time league champion, Bachar has had the midas touch on every single move he has made while racking up one win after the next in the preseason, and then pounding out a 5-0 win in the domestic league opener.
How Barak Bachar has helped Serbia
Bachar arrived in Serbia just in May to much fanfare after having won six Israeli league titles in only eight years with a trio of championships at Hapoel Beersheba and then a three-peat with the Greens at only the tender age of 43 years old. The Tzrufa native not only won trophy after trophy in the domestic league, but he also conquered the continent.
Having guided Maccabi Haifa to the group stages of the UEFA Champions League just last season, where he defeated Juventus while playing both a Leo Messi and Neymar-led Paris Saint-Germain and Benfica toe to toe, it was clear as day that Bachar was going to take the next step in his career outside the friendly confines of the Holy Land.
The only question was where that would be.
Bachar began his career as a player with Hakoah Ramat Gan and then moved to Hapoel Petah Tikva and from there to Kiryat Shmona. Immediately after the 2011 campaign with the northerners he stayed with the club as an assistant coach as his managing career began.
Just one year later he was handed the head coaching position and guided the club to the 2014 State Cup and from there it was on to Hapoel Beersheba.
With the southerners, Bachar won three league titles in a row from 2016 through 2018 before heading to the Carmel Mountain and Maccabi Haifa where another three championships came between 2020-2023.
During last season’s Champions League campaign – which included wins over Olympiacos, Limassol and then Red Star in the playoff round to punch the Greens ticket to the prestigious competition – the Crvena Zvezda brass had eyes on only one person to take over their outfit for the 2023/24 season.
The Sabra outwitted, outthought and had his team outplay his Serbian opponents man to man, which gave the Red Star executives all of the food for thought they needed to know that Bachar was their guy to walk on sidelines of Rajko Mitić Stadium, better known as the Marakana.
While Red Star had won numerous league titles, success in Europe’s premier competition has been elusive.
In fact, the last time the Belgrade based team had really made an impact in the Champions League was way back in 1991 when it won the tournament when it was still called the European Cup and the Iron Curtain was just falling.
When Red Star saw what Bachar had done to its team to knock it out of the Champions League yet again, enough was enough and it was time to bring in the maestro at any cost, especially since the team would have automatic qualification for winning the Serbian league and would not need to go through the qualification phase.
Bachar was officially unveiled at the end of May and journalists packed into the Marakana’s media room for his first press conference, in which he made sure to say all of the right things, but little did those assembled know what kind of firestorm Bachar would create just days after his appointment.
The Israeli tactician knew Red Star up, down and all around and was certain that he had to move some players out and bring others in their place.
Decisions that were about to be made were going to shock the club to its core, but Bachar knew he had no choice if he wanted to have a successful run with the team that had placed immaculate faith in him.
The first cut was veteran goalkeeper Milan Borjan, who made 275 appearances for the club and was a staple in goal for so many seasons. The Canadian international was told by Bachar that he was no longer going to be the first-choice ‘keeper and out the door he went kicking and screaming to anyone that would listen to him, on loan to Slovan Bratislava.
Fans were stunned, Red Star loyalists were shocked, but Bachar knew that arguably the weakest link in the defense (and the biggest reason that he was able to get Maccabi Haifa past Red Star last season) needed to go.
The move sent shockwaves without a doubt, but it was clear that the new head coach was going to do what was needed.
In came Omri Glazer, an up-and-coming ’keeper who had been with Beersheba the past few seasons and who was a player that Bachar had trust in to keep the ball out of the Red Star goal.
Bachar then continued to make moves to strengthen his squad by moving out weak link after the next while bringing in what he felt were players that could take the club to the next level - and that’s exactly what has happened.
A total of 17 players left the club or went on loan in one of the biggest shakeups that any European club had made in recent memory.
With players of his liking now on board, Red Star mowed down one rival after the next, capping a 7-0 exhibition season run with a 5-0 dismantling of Serie A stalwart Fiorentina.
That blowout win left the Red Star faithful with their tongues wagging for more and that’s what they got as the curtain was raised for the European season with a 5-0 win over Vojvodina in front of the home fans at the Marakana to open the new campaign on the right foot.
However, for Bachar and his crew there is still much work to do before the real test begins when the Champions League season begins in September. While there is plenty of time until then, the coach doesn’t want to sit on the laurels of an opening win, but rather see what can be done better.
He was modest after the victory knowing full well that the season with Red Star is not a sprint, but a marathon just as he had experienced before while managing in the Israeli league.
He will take one step at a time, slowly but surely, in order to ensure that the magic that he was able to create in Israel will be the same in Serbia. If Bachar can accomplish that, then the sky’s the limit for both the club and its new Israeli coach.