Malmilian’s tenure a feel-good story gone horribly awry

Sinai Says: Man who turned Betar from marginal soccer team into local powerhouse in 70s, 80s finally gets his chance to lead from the sideline.

Uri Malmilian 311 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Uri Malmilian 311
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
It should have been all so different.
Uri Malmilian’s return to Betar Jerusalem seemed to be the perfect start to a fairytale story.
The man who turned Betar from a marginal Israeli soccer team into a local powerhouse in the 1970s and 1980s had finally gotten his chance to lead the club from the sideline the way he did from the playmaker position.
Malmilian took the hard route to realizing his dream.
Unlike Eli Ohana at Betar or Avi Nimni at Maccabi Tel Aviv, Malmilian patiently waited his turn, some might even say refusing to profit from his iconic status.
It took 15 years of coaching before Betar finally came calling, offering Malmilian the one job he had always wanted.
Everything was falling into place.
Betar’s squad was far from great, but the expectations weren’t that high either. No one thought the team would challenge for the championship.
A place in the top-six playoffs and some exciting victories would have been more than enough.
But it all went so drastically wrong.
Three straight defeats to start the season were just a sign of things to come, with Betar not only failing to play to its potential, but also looking completely apathetic on the field, something no supporter can accept.
After winning just once in its first 10 matches, there were some indications Malmilian might be able to turn things around when the team won three consecutive contests.
The coach never lost hope, insisting that he was more than capable of eventually guiding the side to success.
However, it quickly became evident that what had appeared to be a match made in heaven had resulted in hell for Betar, Malmilian and the fans.
Jerusalem won just one of its last five games, losing its last two, and even Malmilian admitted defeat on Monday.
He had waited 15 years for this opportunity, but was forced to concede that his time in Jerusalem was doomed to failure.
It seemed like everyone wanted Malmilian to do well, even fans of opposing teams.
After all, there are few figures in Israeli soccer who are as universally respected.
The modesty, class and elegance Malmilian displayed as a player and a coach garnered the appreciation of almost every soccer fan.
His coaching career never really took off, but he proved his talents by guiding teams to Premier League promotion on four separate occasions and it seemed almost inevitable that he would make the most of his chance at a big club when it finally arrived.
But the past six months turned out to be a true nightmare for Malmilian and the entire Betar nation.
The legend of Uri was tarnished with every passing week and it didn’t take long until fans too young to have seen Malmilian play for Betar were calling for his head in vulgar fashion.
Betar was not the worst team in the league, but it had once again returned to almost complete irrelevance.
Malmilian could not get through to his indifferent squad and it became clear that he had to sacrifice his own position for the club’s greater good.
The team has always been the most important thing for Malmilian, both as a player and coach, and there was never any doubt that he would clear the stage as soon as he was convinced that he was no longer the man for the job.
That time arrived on Monday, with Jerusalem almost immediately bringing in former Maccabi Haifa coach Roni Levy as a replacement.
The return of Malmilian to Betar was supposed to be one of the uplifting stories of the season.
It brought some much-needed romance back into Israeli soccer.
But the love affair between Malmilian and Betar ended in heartbreak, reminding us all that sometimes legends are best left in our memories.