Like Dangerfield, Elisha Levy can’t get no respect

Sinai Says: No matter how Maccabi Haifa performs, their 53-year-old coach always seems to be on the hot seat.

Maccabi Haifa coach Elisha Levy 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Maccabi Haifa coach Elisha Levy 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
I cannot help but feel sorry for Elisha Levy.
You would think two Premier League championships, progress to the Champions League and Europa League group stages and two State Cup finals – all achieved in just over three years – would have made him a folk hero among Maccabi Haifa fans.
But yet, Levy has time and again been forced to endure hundreds of Haifa supporters calling for his resignation and the appointment of Reuven Atar in his place.
Sure, Sunday’s 1-1 draw against Bnei Yehuda at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium was disappointing. But the impetuousness and ungratefulness of many of Haifa’s supporters shames the illustrious club.
I mean, what else has Levy got to do? When the team wins the fans complain that it isn’t winning in style. And when Haifa wins in style they protest that Levy isn’t using enough of the club’s homegrown talent.
And how about when Levy fields a string of young players from the youth department and the Greens fail to triumph? Well, you can already work out for yourself who takes all the blame.
It seems that regardless of what he does, Levy simply cannot win over the Haifa fans.
After all, there is no way he can atone for his cardinal sin of...not being Reuven Atar.
For all his virtues, Levy simply doesn’t excite the imagination of Haifa’s faithful the way Atar does.
There are few players who were as beloved as Atar during his 11 seasons at Haifa. His often audacious skills and carefree style of play enamored not just Haifa fans, but anybody who loves soccer.
The promising start to his coaching career quickly made him the fans’ dream candidate to guide the Greens, with Atar twice finishing in second place with Netanya (2007- 2008) before claiming a State Cup at Betar Jerusalem (2009).
Atar rejoined Netanya two years ago, and after recording unexpected success last season, the team has also got this campaign off to an encouraging start. Netanya is currently in sixth place, five points from league-leader Hapoel Tel Aviv and one position and two points above Haifa.
After losing just three matches on the way to the league title last season, Haifa has found it difficult to maintain a similar level of consistency this term, losing three of its first nine games and so far winning just four of its 11 league encounters.
That presented Haifa’s spoiled supporters with the opportunity they had long been waiting for to finally chase Levy out of town.
It sometimes feels like some of the fans are actually secretly hoping their team slips up so that they can intensify their campaign against Levy.
The fact that Levy is already one of the most successful coaches in Haifa’s history seems to be of little significance, as well as the reality that he has had to work under far from ideal conditions.
One of the main goals set for Levy by club owner Jacob Shahar was to promote players from within Haifa’s youth department.
Shahar admitted that he never expected Levy to lead the team to the championship in his first season at the helm (2008/9), but the coach managed to achieve that while also turning the likes of Dekel Keinan, Biram Kiyal and Shlomi Arbeitman from raw potential into budding stars.
In fact, Levy’s success came back to haunt him as Keinan, Kiyal and Arbeitman all left the team for Europe after the 2009/10 season, with a similar exodus occurring this past summer.
For a second straight year, Levy had to rebuild the backbone of the team after Premier League player of the season Lior Rafaelov, lethal striker Tomer Hemed and Peter Masilela all left for the continent, while influential defender Arik Benado retired.
Haifa has one of the highest budgets in the league, but Levy was under strict constraints as he worked to reconstruct the team.
He never complained and continues to work tirelessly in order to get Haifa back to where its fans believe it belongs.
But those same fans fail to give Levy and the team the support they need when the going gets tough.
Levy spent most of the first 19 years of his career being disregarded and disrespected, but he finally got to the top with Haifa after a long and often arduous road which began at third-division Hapoel Beit She’an in 1989.
However, even after consistent outstanding success at Haifa, he has yet to receive the respect he deserves.
Shahar’s insistence on handing Levy a one-year contract extension at the end of each season has hardly helped, but it is those fans which foolishly deem Levy as inadequate to coach their team that are causing the significant damage.
It is safe to say that they will one day look back at Levy’s tenure and almost fail to believe how good they once had it.
It is just unfortunate they will not realize that until it is too late.
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