Mac TA, Mac Haifa hope coach shake-ups help

Yellow-and-blue introduces Lito Vidigal while Greens replace Meulensteen with Luzon.

Guy Luzon replaces Rene Meulensteen in Haifa. (photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Guy Luzon replaces Rene Meulensteen in Haifa.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Two of Israeli soccer’s biggest clubs unveiled new coaches on Tuesday, but Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Lito Vidigal and Maccabi Haifa’s Guy Luzon entered their first day on the job facing very different challenges.
Lito, 47, a former national team player and coach of his native Angola, takes over a team in the midst of its best run of results this season, closing back within five points of Premier League leader Hapoel Beersheba with Monday’s 1-0 win at Maccabi Petah Tikva.
Haifa, on the other hand, is in danger of missing out on the championship playoffs for which only the top six teams in the standings qualify, sitting in seventh place with four regular season matches to play.
Maccabi Tel Aviv picked up 16 of a possible 18 points in six league matches under sports director Jordi Cruyff, who guided the team for over a month following the sacking of Shota Arveladze.
The team also advanced to the State Cup quarterfinals where it holds a 1-0 first-leg lead over Petah Tikva.
Cruyff said the club had already been in touch with Lito 4-5 weeks ago and that it was always its intention to wait for the right moment to bring him aboard.
“It took a bit longer than we thought because we felt it was necessary to get the team back on track,” explained Cruyff.
“I think now is a very good moment because everything fits together. The team feels that it has everything to fight for this season and this is a good time to bring in a new coach.”
Cruyff said that Lito was always the team’s first choice after he and owner Mitch Goldhar met him, as well as several other candidates, in Europe last month.
“We didn’t have a problem waiting longer than expected because we felt he was the right choice,” added Cruyff. “For me this is an ideal moment as long as we all understand that there is an adaptation period. I think it was quite clear for us that he was the right fit.”
Lito, who joins Maccabi from FC Arouca of Portugal where he had been coaching since 2015, said his only focus for the moment is the team’s next match, which is against Ironi Kiryat Shmona on Saturday.
“If we keep winning our next game we will be good,” he said.
“Maccabi is a huge club in Israel. After seeing last night’s match I’m very glad to be here. The players fought a lot and won a difficult game because they have the support of the fans. It was amazing last night.” Lito said he only plans to make small changes.
“We are in a good position now and I’m here to improve the team. I’m not here to change everything,” he noted. “I’m here to give from my experience and my knowledge to make the team stronger.”
Luzon joins Haifa just one month after leaving Hapoel Tel Aviv. Haifa picked up 29 points from its first 22 league matches of the season under Rene Meulensteen, winning only seven games.
The Greens were also knocked out at the first hurdle in the State Cup, losing to Maccabi Petah Tikva in the round of 32.
“It is clear that there is a good base to build on here,” said Luzon, who was handed a deal until the end of 2017/18 and will be hoping his stay in Haifa lasts a lot longer than his four-month tenure at Hapoel.
“I’m not sure why this hasn’t led to the results the club is hoping for. Clearly there have been some problems here over recent years and I was brought here to fix them. I believe that if you have good players and they give their all as a team you will succeed in the long term.”
The decision to bring in Luzon was made by owner Jacob Shachar and was not the initiative of Norwegian sports director Tor-Kristian Karlsen.
“For me it was quite clear considering the situation we were in that the new coach would be an Israeli,” he said. “We don’t just have long term goals but also have short and medium term goals. We are in the middle of the season and we think Guy is the person to lead us to these targets.”
Elsewhere Tuesday, Ran Ben-Shimon was appointed as Ashdod SC’s new coach, nine days after being fired by Beitar Jerusalem. Ben-Shimon replaces Roni Aouate, who will remain at the club as his assistant.