Sinai Says: Maccabi Haifa’s secret for maintaining excellenc

Even if the championship somehow slips away this weekend, there is little doubt that Haifa will be the leading force in Israeli soccer for many years to come.

It was only appropriate for Dekel Keinan to be the one who netted the goal which will likely give Maccabi Haifa a second straight Premier League title and a seventh local championship in the last 10 years.
Keinan’s 86th-minute winner in the 2-1 victory over Betar Jerusalem on Saturday night, combined with Hapoel Tel Aviv’s 0-0 draw in the derby against Maccabi, took Haifa back to the top of the standings, bringing it to within touching distance of clinching a crown it thoroughly deserves.
The league’s new format, which saw Haifa’s gap at the top cut in half after 30 matches, almost cost it the title, but a victory over Bnei Yehuda this coming Saturday will secure another triumph for Elisha Levy’s all-conquering team, which has won a remarkable 28 of 34 league matches so far.
Born and raised on the small kibbutz of Rosh Hanikra on the Israel-Lebanon border, Keinan epitomizes all that is good about Maccabi Haifa. The 25-year-old defender is not the most skilled or elegant player on his team, but with hard work, the right attitude and a patient plan, he has become the stalwart of the Haifa defense and a symbol of the club’s strength.
Keinan joined the Haifa youth department as a 12-year-old boy and quickly made a lasting impression. In the 2002/03 season he helped Haifa’s youth team to a league and cup double and in May 2003 he made his debut for the senior side.
However, he struggled to establish his place among Haifa’s many stars and after a frustrating campaign was loaned out to Bnei Sakhnin ahead of the 2004/05 season.
Instead of selling or releasing the player, Haifa kept its faith in Keinan and even though he failed to break into the team’s starting lineup, the club secured his services for the future with a long-term contract while allowing him to develop at his own pace at another club.
Keinan impressed during his one season in Sakhnin, but Haifa coach Roni Levy still deemed him not ready for the side’s first 11 and a couple of months into the 2005/06 campaign he was sent on loan to Maccabi Netanya.
Multiple rejections may very well have shattered the confidence of most young players, but each setback only made Keinan stronger. Maybe it was his kibbutz upbringing or perhaps his dogged drive for success, but regardless of the reason, the defender never stopped working on his game and he would soon reap the rewards.
At Netanya, Keinan asserted himself as one of the country’s best young defenders while also helping lead Israel’s under-21 team to the 2007 European Championships.
It was clear Keinan was ready to play for the Haifa defense ahead of the 2006/07 season and he didn’t disappoint, starting in 26 of the side’s league matches.
He has been a staple in Haifa’s lineup ever since and he played an integral part in the team’s championship run last season.
But Keinan’s story of success is far more than a tale of personal triumph. It is the foundation to the blueprint which has mapped out Maccabi Haifa’s domination of Israeli soccer.
By putting the emphasis on bringing in young talent and developing it internally, Haifa has found a viable method by which to achieve glory on a consistent basis.
Haifa’s scouts spotted Keinan at a tender age and he was nurtured andsupported, even when he didn’t find his place in the senior squad. Theclub never lost hope in its home-grown product and gave him the timeand platform he needed to realize his potential.
The Greens’ owner, Jacob Shahar, can afford to fork out millions andbuy his way to titles, but he has instead chosen to invest in the youthdepartment, and his faith in the club’s young players keeps paying off,with an astounding 13 of Haifa’s 22-man squad this season learningtheir trade at the Kfar Galim academy.
Haifa looks certain to add another league title to its ever-growingresume on Saturday, but just as importantly it is doing so in a mannerwhich ensures continuity. Even if the championship somehow slips awaythis weekend, there is little doubt that Haifa will be the leadingforce in Israeli soccer for many years to come, setting the standardfor everyone else to aspire to.