Sinai Says: It’s time for the real dawn of a new era in TA

The only thing wrong with team owner Mitch Goldhar’s decision to sack manager Avi Nimni on Tuesday was the fact that it was long overdue.

Macabi Tel Aviv owner Mitch Goldhar 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Macabi Tel Aviv owner Mitch Goldhar 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Mark your calendars. January 4, 2011 – the day Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer was born again.
The only thing wrong with team owner Mitch Goldhar’s decision to sack manager Avi Nimni on Tuesday was the fact that it was long overdue.
Goldhar may have purchased the yellow-and-blue in August 2009, but only now will he finally have control.
No player should ever be bigger than the club, but Nimni came awfully close.
There were times when the adulation by some of Nimni’s fans was almost cult-like, and while he might not have pushed for it, Nimni sure didn’t discourage such displays.
There is no doubt that Avi Nimni is one of the greatest players in Maccabi Tel Aviv’s illustrious history. His four championships and four State Cups, and 174 goals in 429 league appearances, are unprecedented accomplishments in the history of the yellow- and-blue.
But there has always been another side to the icon.
At the start of the 2000/01 season, former Israel coach Shlomo Sharf was forced out of the club with the campaign only two games old when then-owner Loni Hertzikovitch took Nimni’s side following a clash with Sharf.
In the summer of 2003, coach Nir Klinger did the unthinkable when he threw both Nimni and Tal Banin out of the club for creating a destructive rift in the squad.
Nimni spent two seasons in exile at Betar Jerusalem, but he had plotted his return from day one, with no player daring to wear his hallowed number eight jersey during his time in Jerusalem and hundreds of the club’s supporters attending their side’s matches in black shirts in protest of their hero’s expulsion.
The pressure from the stands eventually resulted in his return to the roster ahead of the 2005/06 season and he has reigned over the club ever since.
Owners have come and gone, but Nimni, who retired from active play at the end of the 2007/08 season, remained ever present.
Whether he held the position of general manager, coach or just manager, everyone knew that the 38-year-old was the man in charge, and until yesterday, no one dared to challenge that.
However, Nimni made his biggest mistake in November 2008 when he stepped down from the front office to manage the team in place of the sacked Ran Ben-Shimon.
As soon as he was directly in charge of the team’s results on the field, he became vulnerable to criticism, and it was only a matter of time until even his loyal supporters would begin to wonder whether his presence had become a liability.
After finishing in sixth place in the 2008/09 campaign, Nimni guided the team to third position last season, but it was still no where near to becoming a factor in the title race.
Goldhar spared no expense ahead of this season in the hope of seeing Maccabi claim just its second championship in 15 years, allowing Nimni to bring in virtually every player he wished for.
With 12 new additions and a budget of over NIS 100 million, the expectations were sky high, but that only made the disappointment all the more difficult to take.
Maccabi may currently be in third place, but it has picked up just one of a possible 18 points in its matches against top-six opponents and was thoroughly outplayed in the 3-0 defeat at Maccabi Haifa on Monday which left it eight points adrift of the league-leader.
In 76 league matches under Nimni’s guidance, Maccabi won 35 times, drew 19 matches and lost 22, a poor success rate of 54.38 percent.
Despite the fact that he clearly wanted to lead Tel Aviv back to its glory days, Nimni just wasn’t the right man to coach the side and the growing criticism among the team’s fans finally allowed Goldhar to send him packing on Tuesday.
Twenty Special Patrol Unit policemen were on hand at the team’s Kiryat Shalom training grounds ahead of Tuesday’s session in the expectation that there might be unrest among the supporters.
But very few fans bothered to get themselves to Kiryat Shalom, perhaps proving that it is indeed the end of an era.
It remains to be seen who will replace Nimni at the helm and if anybody else can guide the team to instant success.
One thing, however, is for sure. Nothing will ever be the same at Maccabi Tel Aviv.
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