Haifa’s Levy deserves full share of title credit

Coach answered all his critics by guiding a seemingly rebuilding Maccabi Haifa club to its second Premier League championship in three years.

Elisha Levy 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Elisha Levy 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Perhaps the most impressive part about Maccabi Haifa’s 12th Premier League championship, secured on Monday with a 2-0 victory over Ironi Kiryat Shmona, is the progress made by the team throughout the past season.
With the likes of Dekel Keinan, Jorge Teixeira, Biram Kiyal and Shlomi Arbeitman all leaving in the off-season for Europe, and Haifa owner Jacob Shahar spending little to replace the departing big names, it was hard to see how the Greens would challenge last season’s champion Hapoel Tel Aviv and heavy-spending Maccabi Tel Aviv.
Haifa somehow grounded out results at the start of the campaign, but it was clear for all to see that it had little chance to claim a seventh league title in 11 years without a significant improvement.
Much of the criticism was pointed at coach Elisha Levy, but that should be of little surprise considering he got little credit even after he led the team to the championship in his first season in 2008/09.
Last season’s late collapse was, of course, blamed on him and it seemed all but certain that he would be out of work should he fail to take the Greens back to the promised land this year.
However, although this Haifa side may not be remembered as one of the more exciting champions Israeli soccer has ever seen, Levy’s job with the team this year was nothing short of sensational.
He essentially completely overhauled the team over the last nine months.
Only four of the players that started during Maccabi’s first three league matches were also in the lineup in the team’s last three games, a testament to the evolution of the side.
At the start of the season, the likes of Arik Benado and Tomer Hemed seemed to be complete outcasts, with the 37- year-old defender widely rumored to be considering retirement at one stage and Hemed a prime candidate to go out on loan in the January transfer window.
However, unlike other coaches who might have put their pride before the team, Levy always had Haifa’s best in mind and when Benado and Hemed proved his initial decision wrong he was not ashamed to transform his plans.
Together with Lior Rafaelov, Benado, who settled the team’s defense, and Hemed, who scored 11 goals in the last 14 matches, were Haifa’s best players of the season.
This Haifa team might not go down as one of the greatest in club history, but not even his harshest critics will be able to deny Levy his dues should the Greens defeat Hapoel Tel Aviv in the State Cup final next Wednesday to clinch just their second double.