Sinai Says: Luzon keeps coming up with new ways to embarrass himself and IFA

Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon seems to turn everything he gets his paws on into scandal.

Avi Luzon 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Avi Luzon 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
There is the “Midas Touch” and then – at the extreme other end of the spectrum – there is what is quickly becoming known as the “Luzon Touch.”
According to Greek mythology, King Midas had the ability to transform everything he put his hands on into gold.
Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon, on the other hand, seems to turn everything he gets his paws on into scandal.
After all, how difficult should it have been to extend the contract of Israel national team coach Eli Gutman? You make the decision, you notify the coach and you send out a press release.
End of story.
But not with Luzon.
For the countless time, he managed to drag the IFA’s reputation through the mud, make a mockery of himself and the way local soccer is run, while also embarrassing poor Gutman.
On the face of it, last week’s announcement that a committee had been set up to select the Israel coach seemed like a good idea.
The fact that three of its five members – Luzon, his deputy Stern Haluba and IFA CEO Rotem Kemer – were IFA buddies didn’t bode well, but the committee was at least given some credibility by former Israel international star Tzvika Rosen and former national team coach Dror Kashtan.
Six days later – and before the committee had met even one time – Luzon declared on Sunday that Gutman will continue as the Israel coach for two more years.
According to the IFA’s announcement, there was no longer any need for a committee as Luzon and Haluba made a joint decision to extend the coach’s contract, which will only be made official when the association’s secretariat approves it next week.
The press release stressed that the decision was approved by the IFA’s legal advisor and that Rosen and Kashtan agreed the committee should be broken up.
It is believed that Luzon was worried the committee may end up appointing former Israel international and current agent Avi Nimni together with Israel youth team coach Eli Ohana as Gutman’s replacements.
It would have been truly ridiculous had an agent who failed miserably when he guided Maccabi Tel Aviv and a youth team coach whose teams have experienced more relegation than success in his time as a club coach would have been handed the most important coaching position in local soccer.
But the idea seemed to be gathering steam once the committee was set up and Luzon felt he had to foil a decision which, in his mind, would have turned the IFA into a laughing stock.
So he disbanded the committee just as quickly as he assembled it and once more made a joke of himself by infinitely complicating the simplest of matters.
Luzon ultimately got this decision right, but yet again only did so after making every possible mistake along the way.
It is easy to fault Gutman on Israel’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
While the team’s third-place finish behind Russia and Portugal and failure to advance to the World Cup was hardly a surprising development, the blue-and-white’s displays in many of the qualifiers were a bitter disappointment.
Apart from its two emphatic wins over rock-bottom Luxembourg, Israel managed just one victory from eight matches, an impressive 2-0 triumph over Northern Ireland in Belfast.
There was also no shame in the two draws against Portugal, but the two stalemates with Azerbaijan, the two emphatic defeats against Russia and finally the frustrating home draw against Northern Ireland meant the side recorded its worst campaign since Euro 2004 qualification.
Israel did manage to score 19 goals, its second-best tally of all-time behind the 25 goals netted in Euro 2000 qualification.
However, Gutman’s men also recorded the national team’s second-worse defensive campaign, conceding 14 goals. The only time Israel allowed more goals in a campaign was way back in the 1994 World Cup qualifiers when the blue-and-white let in 25 goals and finished bottom of its group.
But whether Gutman deserved to continue or not, the simple truth was that there was no other coach out there – one willing to guide the national team – who would afford the blue-and-white a better chance of reaching Euro 2016 in France.
Gutman’s inexperience was demonstrated by the fact that he used 35 different players in the qualifying campaign, more than his past three predecessors in the job, and the third most among the 53 national teams which played in the UEFA qualifying groups.
However, Gutman has proven in the past that he learns from mistakes, and he deserves another chance considering every one of Israel’s coaches over the past two decades, who has been given another opportunity, has gone on to achieve greater success with the team in his second campaign.
There is every reason to believe that Gutman in particular will prosper in the long term and the coming campaign looks to be Israel’s best chance ever to participate in a major competition since its one and only appearance in the World Cup in 1970.
With 24 teams to qualify for Euro 2016 – eight more than in recent European Championships – the group winners, runners- up, and the best third-placed team will all advance directly.
The eight remaining third-placed teams will contest home-and-away playoffs for the four remaining berths, meaning Israel will be expected at the very least to reach a decisive tie for qualification.
Luzon should have handed Gutman a long-term four-year contract to start with and should have definitely not made his coach feel as if he is only keeping his job because he is the best among many bad options (even if that is exactly the case).
It is somewhat remarkable that Luzon managed to screw up what should have been one of the easiest decisions he has ever made with the committee-that-never-was.
At least there shouldn’t be any long-term consequences to the chaos Luzon caused, although he somehow yet again found a new way to tarnish the IFA’s already tainted name.