In Ivanir, Maccabi hopes to have found a long-term savior

Sinai Says: Goldhar seems determined to bring stability to the team and give Ivanir the time he needs to prove his worth.

Maccabi Tel Aviv coach and pres 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach and pres 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv owner Mitch Goldhar’s decision to extend coach Moti Ivanir’s contract through the 2011/12 season is as courageous as it is correct.
After being thrashed 4-0 by Ironi Kiryat Shmona two weeks ago, Tel Aviv was humbled 3-0 by Maccabi Netanya on Saturday, sparking speculation that Ivanir’s position is in jeopardy.
It looked to be a foregone conclusion that even if he would survive until the end of the season, he would certainly not be at the helm at the start of the next campaign.
But following years of unrealistic expectations and an impossible chase after immediate success – and despite the pressure to completely overhaul the club once more following such a disappointing season – Goldhar seems determined to bring stability to the team and give Ivanir the time he needs to prove his worth.
“Moti Ivanir possesses important qualities we value at Maccabi Tel Aviv both as coach and as a person: humility, courage and determination,” Goldhar said on Tuesday in a statement announcing the coach’s contract extension. “Such convictions are aligned with the philosophy of the club and my vision for its future.
“While many new players were added to the squad last summer, this was never a substitute for the commitment and vision for the long term: to building from the ground up, focusing on the development of our youth program.
Moti’s experience with the youth further aligns him with our objectives.”
Ivanir has come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks and was quickly becoming the scapegoat for the disarray in which the team finds itself, even though he came on board just over two months ago to replace Avi Nimni.
With a budget of well over NIS 100 million and 13 new players, Nimni and Yossi Mizrahi were expected to build an all-star team at Kiryat Shalom.
More than enough stars were brought in, but gelling them into a team proved to be beyond the capabilities of Nimni, and considering the current state of affairs, many experts began to question whether Ivanir may also be out of his depth.
Maccabi won four of its first five league games under Ivanir, but after the initial effect of sacking Nimni wore off, it became clear that the mistakes made in the building of the squad at the start of the season were far more problematic than anyone had predicted.
Ivanir’s first failure arrived when the team was knocked out of the State Cup at the first hurdle by Hapoel Petah Tikva, and matters threatened to completely spiral out of control in recent weeks.
Maccabi has won just one of its past five league games, losing to Hapoel Haifa, Kiryat Shmona and Netanya, who have played better than expected this season, but are still far from being among the league’s top teams.
And it’s not just that Tel Aviv has played poorly.
Maccabi’s players seem to be almost apathetic to the side’s situation, breaking down mentally with remarkable ease.
They have simply seemed incapable of coping with the pressure of playing for the underachieving club.
For example, throughout the season, Tel Aviv rarely managed to mount a comeback after conceding the first goal of the match.
Maccabi went a goal down in 11 of its 27 encounters so far this season, losing in eight of them, drawing twice and only once successfully coming back from a goal down to claim a win.
One of the main reasons behind Ivanir’s hiring was the belief that the disciplinarian could shake up the squad and get it to play to its potential.
However, the fact that Ivanir was only handed a contract until the end of the season came back to bite Goldhar, with the millionaire players believing that it would be the coach who would pay the price for the failures while they hold a guaranteed deal for next season.
All of that changed on Tuesday.
The decision to keep Ivanir at the helm for at least one more season is an important step in the right direction, but it will be worth little if the club runs out of patience and returns to making panic-driven decisions. After giving its youngsters a chance last season and finishing in third position, Maccabi cast them aside in favor of expensive recruits.
It then placed unnecessary pressure on the players to come up with immediate results instead of focusing on building for the long term.
But instant success very rarely occurs in sports, especially in soccer.
Tel Aviv fans have grown up expecting their team to be the dominant force in Israeli soccer, but the fact of the matter is that in the past 30 years, the club has won just four championships, and if it doesn’t give itself the time it needs to rebuild, it will continue to flounder time and again.
This season has cost Goldhar dearly, but it might not have been an entire waste of time and money.
Should the club build on its decision to hand Ivanir the reigns for another season and finally stick by a patient and methodical long-team plan, the 2010/11 season may be remembered as a turning point in the yellow-and-blue’s history rather than just another disappointing year of underachievement.