Sinai Says: Bnei Yehuda building from the ground up

Bnei Yehuda paid the price for inexperience at the start of the season, but has since won seven of eight matches.

Allon sinai 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Allon sinai 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In an era in which success on the soccer field seems to be indelibly connected to a club's financial resources off it, Bnei Yehuda is proving that there is another formula to victories. Instead of throwing money at expensive foreigners and over-priced Israelis, the club from Tel Aviv's 'Shchunat Ha'tikva' decided to put its faith in a group of youngsters and a 33-year-old coach. Bnei Yehuda paid the price for its inexperience at the start of the season, winning just one of its first 10 matches. However, the side has since won seven of its eight matches, including a 3-0 win over Hapoel Tel Aviv on Saturday, and has done so with eye-catching attacking soccer and smart tactical play. Perhaps the main person behind Bnei Yehuda's decision to break the mould in Israeli soccer is club owner and chairman Hezi Magen. The 51-year-old visionary chose to invest in youth development after purchasing the club in 2004 and is now reaping the rewards. All the pieces actually began to fall into place for Bnei Yehuda at the end of last season. The team won eight of its last nine matches to amazingly escape relegation, and even though victories were hard to come at the start of this season, Magen was still encouraged by the side's form and was confident it wouldn't be long before the results would follow as well. "There's no secret to our success. We've played positive soccer from the start of the season, even though we struggled to win early in the campaign. Now the victories have also finally arrived," said Magen. "Right now we're in fifth position and the only thing on our mind is reaching fourth place. When we get to fourth position we will be looking to reach third and so on." Perhaps the biggest gamble Magen took ahead of this season was the decision to name Guy Luzon as coach. Just over a year ago Luzon was regarded as one of the most promising coaches in Israeli soccer, but after a horrendous 2007/08 season there weren't many bidders for the young coach's services. The nephew of Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon began last season at Hapoel Tel Aviv, but quit after winning just one of the team's first 10 league matches. Later on in the season he joined his former club Maccabi Petah Tikva, but resigned after once more only managing one victory in his 10 games in charge. Magen, nevertheless, decided to roll the dice with Luzon, a bet which has clearly paid off. "Every coach has highs and lows in his career," Magen said. "When we took him we looked at what he achieved over the last seven seasons and not just at what happened last year." By playing such a young team, Bnei Yehuda realizes that there will clearly still be hitches down the road, but if it can build around this core of players the club can expect an extremely bright future. If 20-year-old Dean Mori continues to improve at his current rate, it won't be long before he anchors the defense of the national team. 21-year-old Oz Rali has also been very impressive in the left-back's position. But the team's biggest up-and-coming star is 21-year-old Eliran Atar. The nimble striker posses the speed and strength needed in the modern game and has scored seven league goals in 13 matches this season. These are just three of the products of the Bnei Yehuda youth system, which is smartly keeping its youngsters out of the limelight and doing its best to make sure the players stay level-headed. Magen has big plans for the club and has no intention of cashing in on his talented squad. "All our young players are still under contract next season and they will all stay at the club," he said. "I'm not forgetting that just three months ago we were in last position, but we're nevertheless setting our goals as high as possible." Bnei Yehuda has already become the neutrals favorite and if it continues in the path it has paved in recent months it is only a matter of time until the team also becomes a title contender.