SINAI SAYS: Surprise sacking of Edelstein a classic Maccabi Tel Aviv head-scratcher

Instead of looking in the mirror, the club’s management yet again found a scapegoat in its head coach, setting the team up for another lost season.

Maccabi Tel Aviv sacked coach Erez Edelstein  (photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Maccabi Tel Aviv sacked coach Erez Edelstein
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
There are many good reasons to sack a coach five games into the season.
After all, what is a team supposed to do if it discovers its head coach is actually a serial killer or perhaps has been locking players in the arena’s basement? By all accounts, Erez Edelstein did neither.
Nevertheless, he was fired for apparently being guilty of the vague crime of “losing the dressing room,” with the season just two weeks old.
Some players were unhappy with his style of coaching, and two Euroleague defeats to start the season were all it took for the club’s management to completely panic.
There is no hiding the fact that Edelstein clashed with several of his players, most notably in a team talk last Friday.
The likes of forward Sonny Weems also publicly criticized Edelstein, complaining that the coach neglects defensive work in training.
The grumblings about Edelstein’s demands began in preseason, but when you squeeze so many egos of millionaire players into one dressing room it is inevitable that there will be some discontent, especially when defeats begin to pile up.
Everyone would have spoken differently had Edelstein had the chance to lead Maccabi to Euroleague wins over Galatasaray this Wednesday and Zalgiris Kaunas two days later, two opponents which unlike the team’s previous rival Real Madrid, are in Maccabi’s league.
But Tel Aviv’s ownership didn’t even afford Edelstein a reasonable chance to fail, not to mention a real opportunity to succeed. He was sacked following a late-night meeting after Saturday’s BSL win over Hapoel Holon which saw the team move to 3-0 in local action.
Maccabi announced Edelstein’s firing with a two-sentence statement sent out by e-mail at 2:27 a.m. on Sunday morning, appointing his assistant Rami Hadar, apparently on a full-term basis, in his place.
“After a late night meeting between team owners, management and Erez Edelstein, it was decided to end Edelstein’s tenure as head coach due to inadequacy between the two sides.
Rami Hadar will serve as head coach from now on, with Lior Liubin serving as first assistant,” read Maccabi’s short press release.
The decision to fire Edelstein was made before Saturday’s win over Holon, with the club’s ownership believing that the toxic team meeting held on Friday had caused irreparable damage to his already rocky relationship with the players.
The mutiny was led by Weems, the team’s highest paid player at $1.3 million.
Devin Smith and Gal Mekel also vented their frustrations during the meeting, but it was Weems who directly criticized Edelstein, claiming that the team has no system and the players don’t know what to do.
“We still have a long way to go as far as communication on the defensive end. We have a lot to learn as a team and hopefully it comes soon,” he told the media following the defeat to Real. “We just need more options on the offensive end and right now we don’t have that. Maybe you ask coach, but we have to get better at that.”
Edelstein was stunned to hear he had lost his job, clearly believing that the club would show him some more support.
He probably should have known better considering the lack of backing he received at the meeting from team manager Nikola Vujcic.
By that stage, Edelstein’s authority had already been eroded.
Two weeks ago, Maccabi faced Olimpia Milano in its continental opener, flying out to Italy earlier than usual due to Yom Kippur.
According to a report in Israel Hayom, Weems, Andrew Goudelock, D.J. Seeley and Victor Rudd requested to go out on town on the night of Yom Kippur as there was no practice scheduled for the following day, something Edelstein objected to.
The team’s management decided to allow it, but told them to return by midnight.
They only arrived back at the hotel around 4 a.m., and in a meeting held the following afternoon, the players were told that such an infringement is unacceptable. Those involved were later notified they will be fined $5,000.
The punishment was never actually implemented, making Edelstein look like a fool not once, but twice.
The truth is that Edelstein was never actually a unanimous choice to become the team’s head coach, with some of the club’s owners voting in favor of his appointment despite not truly being convinced.
The beginning of the end for Edelstein came perhaps with what was seen as a joke made by part-owner David Federman during the team’s season- opening press conference.
“What happened to you against Jerusalem? Are you making a joke of us?” said Federman with a smile five days after Maccabi was outplayed by Hapoel Jerusalem in the final of the pre-season Winner Cup.
In many ways, Edelstein was selected by default, or as chairman Shimon Mizrahi put it: “When we decided to appoint an Israeli coach Erez was our first candidate and that is why we handed him the job.”
The fact Maccabi couldn’t land any of the foreign coaches it coveted, and with Israelis Pini Gershon, David Blatt and Guy Goodes all coming and going in recent years, Edelstein was essentially the next in line.
Explanations that he wasn’t composed enough to guide Maccabi or that he struggled to communicate with star players were made following his firing, but everyone knew his temperament and people skills when he was appointed.
Even if they were unsure the team was heading in the right direction, the ownership should have at least given him a real chance to prove his worth, especially considering the alternative.
Rami Hadar is a well-respected coach, but he hadn’t even guided a team in the Israeli top flight until he was named as Maccabi Haifa head coach two years ago.
He didn’t record any significant accomplishment with Haifa, being knocked out in the playoff quarterfinals two years in a row. Haifa decided not to extend his contract, but Edelstein felt he could help him, especially on the defensive end.
Edelstein’s Euroleague inexperience was highlighted as one of his main deficiencies, but his overall career experience dwarfs that of the 49-year-old Hadar.
Hadar is under pressure to provide immediate results, with the games against Galatasaray and Zalgiris to be followed by a derby against Hapoel Tel Aviv next Monday and a showdown with Barcelona two days later.
Maccabi’s owners took a problematic situation and made it a lot worse, once more opting for an easy fix. If there is anything Maccabi should have learned from the failures of recent seasons it is that there are no simple solutions for complex problems.
Instead of looking in the mirror, the club’s management yet again found a scapegoat in its head coach, setting the team up for another lost season.