Israeli soccer’s coaching carousel continues to spin wildly

The revolving of the Israeli coaching carousel will slow only when anxious and greedy owners stop reaching into the recycling bin and start selecting coaches based on their merit.

Reuven Atar (photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Reuven Atar
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
As the second half of the Israeli soccer season has unfolded, the Israeli coaching merry-go-round has begun to revolve at a much quicker pace.
To the learned observer of the sport, this phenomenon presents paradoxes and issues which are most difficult to decipher and define.
One inescapable conclusion is that the position is fraught with paranoia and challenges which prove too onerous to cope with for most coaches. The fleeting sense of fame or success realized now and then by a fortunate few is grossly over-weighed by factors of failures and irrelevance which befall most.
Having been an IFA soccer agent for nearly 15 years, I have meticulously followed the climb and decline of numerous coaches who have been dismissed by clubs only to be given the nod by other clubs that somehow see merit in reaching into the recycling bin. The usual suspects who are plucked out of the bin are familiar names – both Eli Cohens, Yuval Naim, Marco Balbul and Eyal Lachman.
The principles of success in a coaching career rest upon certain criteria which are incumbent upon coaches to bring to light. Those principles consist of sound motivational skills, a keen tactical grasp of the game, and a knack for imposing sensible disciplinary measures against players who have crossed the line.
Failure to consistently conform to one or more of these principles inevitably leads in time to the dismissal of the coach in question.
A glaring paradox is that most elite players who have gravitated into coaching seldom live up to the lofty expectations which club owners and their loyal fans have embraced. The list of those who fall into this category includes Eli Ohana, Arik Benado, Reuven Atar, Alon Hazan, Shiye Feigenbaum, Moti Ivanir, Tal Banin, and many more. A perusal of the careers of some of these men is clearly illustrative.
Ohana, who was one of the legendary figures associated with the glory years in Beitar Jerusalem, has been largely inept as a coach, generating mediocre results at Bnei Yehuda and his beloved Beitar. He has been pictured as being disconnected from his players, brooding silently over setbacks and failing to acknowledge players for their efforts, even in victory.
In 2005, I represented a congenial and dependable Brazilian defender named Fabricio Bento, who in the opinion of most seasoned observers turned in a most credible season as Beitar landed in the now discontinued Intertoto Cup European tournament. Still, at the end of the season Ohana sent Bento back to Brazil without even a handshake or farewell.
Arik Benado ranks among the greatest Israeli defenders of his generation. However, when handed the coaching reins at his alma mater Maccabi Haifa, he floundered to the point that club owner Jacob Shachar had little choice but to fire one of his favorite players after yet another dismal season. Several insiders have remarked that Benado came up short in the areas of selection of players and exacting the maximum from them.
It is curious that Benado replaced another iconic Israeli player, Reuven Atar. Atar, who was introduced to coaching at Maccabi Netanya by the learned Gili Landau, developed a thorough understanding of the game, but floundered badly when asked to take the reins at Maccabi Haifa.
In conversation with players in Haifa, I gleaned that Atar was largely withdrawn and not able to engage his players in a meaningful dialogue. His failure to rally his players earned him a quick dismissal by Shachar.
Atar has also displayed a knack for doling out severe and disproportionate penalties to players whom he deemed to be insolent or to have leaked sensitive matters to the media wherever he has coached.
A current example of this practice is the case of Oshri Roash of Hapoel Haifa, one of the league’s most capable defenders. However, because of perceived insubordination, Roash has spent the bulk of the time this year on the bench or in the stands. The team has underperformed to the point that, following a five-game winless streak and headed for possible relegation, Yoav Katz finally sent Atar packing and returned Tal Banin for a second tour of duty with the club.
Whereas Ohana, Benado and Atar are portrayed as lacking the necessary communication skills to reach their players, the same cannot be said of Shiye Feigenbaum, the fabled striker of Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Feigenbaum has participated in theater groups and is known for his outgoing demeanor and gift of gab. As such, he is known for his fiery motivational talks to his players.
However, Feigenbaum has never ascended to the top echelon of Israeli coaches for reasons which relate to his failure to fully grasp the tactical facets of coaching and to formulate a consistently workable game plan. His career is marked by several instances where his entry has saved a club from relegation, most notably Hapoel, his mother team. Conversely, some of his clubs have been demoted to the second league, including Ahi Nazareth in 2004.
Several other great players who have tasted limited success as coaches are Alon Hazan, Tal Banin and Moti Ivanir.
In brief, Hazan was noted for his fiery temper, Banin for his aloofness and Ivanir for his bullheadedness.
All were viewed as being impervious to their players’ concerns.
Curiously, all these coaches enjoyed better success when coaching the national youth teams, where they were subjected to less pressure and not placed in a situation where they had to maintain control of the locker room.
It is somewhat ironic that some of the greatest names in Israeli coaching, like Avram Grant, Dror Kashtan and Elisha Levy, did not achieve greatness as players, but have gone on to have reached the pinnacle of success as reflected in league championships and international competition.
Kashtan and Levy were quality players but not great by any means while Grant, who went on to global stardom as a coach, never played professional soccer but learned his craft through academic immersion and on the job training.
I have spoken to a couple of sports psychologists about this paradox of elite players who have failed to achieve similar high marks during their coaching career and the consensus which can be drawn is that star players have an unconscious standard of excellence which they impose on their players.
The result which flows from this mindset is that as coaches they show little tolerance towards their players for errors on the pitch, whether they be of commission or omission.
Moreover, they exhibit impatience in working with their players in order to overcome their errors and thus evolve to the next level.
The revolving of the Israeli coaching carousel will slow only when anxious and greedy owners stop reaching into the recycling bin and start selecting coaches based on their merit.
In addition, they should cut their coaches more slack in the face of a string of losses so as to allow then time to turn things around rather than looking for a quick fix by the hiring of a new coach and beginning the arduous process all over again.
Don Barnett is an IFA player agent who resides in Munich. A native of Jerusalem, he grew up in the US where he practiced law and mediation. He also coached soccer and basketball in various youth leagues and has written a sports column for several Jewish publications.