Local Soccer: IFA reveals revamp of league system

Five clubs to be promoted to top tier next season resulting in 16-team Premier League.

avi luzon 88 (photo credit: Courtesty)
avi luzon 88
(photo credit: Courtesty)
The Israeli Premier League will expand from 12 to 16 teams for the 2009/10 season, the Israel Football Association announced on Monday. Five sides will be promoted from the National League next season, with just one team to be relegated from the top flight. The team which finishes in 11th position in the Premier League next year will face the side which finish es sixth in the National League in a promotion playoff. "I'm very happy that it was decided to expand the league," IFA chairman Avi Luzon said. "We want the league to be interesting and for the stadiums to be full." The restructure includes the top three tiers in Israeli soccer, with the third division to be merged into the National League, resulting in a 16-team second tier for the 2009/10 campaign. The format of the Premier League was also revolutionized on Monday. After 30 matches in which each team will play every side home and away, the league will be split into three sections. The top six teams will play once against each other to decide the championship and European qualification. The bottom six sides will also play once against their fellow opponents to decide relegation. The four teams in the center of the standings will play each other for a position bonus. Ahead of the split the teams will have their point total halved to reduce the gaps between the sides. This is the latest in a series of changes that have been brought in over the years in an effort to make the league more exciting for fans. There have often been criticisms that the top division was too small and the IFA believes that the expanded league will add interest. Not all those involved in soccer were happy with the changes. "Unfortunately there aren't that many good Israeli players and I think expanding the league is not good for soccer in this country," Maccabi Haifa chairman Ya'akov Shachar said. "I believe that a 12-team league is better and we shouldn't change it just because a couple of bad seasons." Also Monday, the IFA announced the appointments of Moti Ivanir, Eli Ohana, Tal Banin and Alon Hazan as coaches of Israel's top four youth teams. Originally, the association intended to make Luzon's nephew, Guy Luzon, coach of the Under-21 team and Eyal Berkovitch coach of the Under-17 side. Public pressure, however, forced Guy Luzon to turn down the position and Berkovitch was eventually ruled out after he refused to quit his job as head of a soccer school in Nesher, which he took a week after first accepting the IFA's offer. Ivanir, 45, will replace Guy Levy as coach of the Under-21 team. The former international midfielder began his coaching career in 1997 and in his last job led Israel's Under-17 team to the brink of European Championship qualification. Ohana, 44, will replace Ze'ev Zeltzer as coach of the Under-19 team. One of Israel's greatest players, Ohana began to coach at his home club of Betar Jerusalem in 1999 and last season guided Hapoel Kfar Saba to relegation from the Premier League. Tal Banin, 37, will guide the Under-17 team despite having very little coaching experience. The former Israel international only got his first coaching job at the start of April as assistant at Maccabi Petah Tikva and left the club just a month later after failing to get along with head coach Nitzan Shirazi. Hazan, 40, is also a former international and joins the IFA's ranks after resigning from his position as Ashdod SC coach in April following his failure to lead the team out of the relegation zone.