Sinai Says: More than Europa League qualifier for Mac TA

Europa League qualifying rounds are often treated by Israeli clubs as a nuisance rather than a privilege.

Maccabi Tel Aviv Liran Strauber 311 (photo credit: Asif Kliger)
Maccabi Tel Aviv Liran Strauber 311
(photo credit: Asif Kliger)
The Europa League qualifying rounds are often treated by Israeli clubs as a nuisance rather than a privilege.
Every club aspires to succeed in continental competition, but it is difficult to escape the feeling that many Israeli players cherish their summer holiday a little more than they do the chance to embark on a long European run.
This blasé approach is not lost on the fans, who rarely venture out of air-conditioned surroundings to watch their teams in the heat of the summer.
You would have thought Bnei Yehuda’s faithful would have been at least a little excited about the second leg of their team’s first qualifying round tie against FC Ulysses last week. The Armenians are anything but an attractive opponent, but considering Bnei Yehuda is making just its third ever appearance in European competition it was disappointing to see that there were no more than several hundred fans, including family and friends, at Bloomfield Stadium to witness the team’s progress to the second qualifying round.
Thursday night, however, will be a different story altogether when Bloomfield will be bursting with thousands of expectant Maccabi Tel Aviv devotees.
Rarely has a qualifying round match in European soccer’s second cup competition been so highly anticipated.
The Premier League season is still more than a month away, but Maccabi supporters are counting the minutes to the start of Thursday’s clash.
Maccabi hosts FK Mogren of Montenegro in the first leg of the second qualifying round in an encounter that will give a first indication of the future prospects of the expensively-assembled squad of stars built at Kiryat Shalom over the summer.
Tel Aviv has signed no less than 10 new players in the past couple of months, many of whom are expected to make their official debuts on Thursday.
Club owner Mitch Goldhar abandoned the frugal approach which characterized his first season at Maccabi and is holding nothing back in his attempt to help the team back to its glory days.
Maccabi remains Israel’s most decorated club, but the yellow-and-blue have won just one league title in the past 15 years, something Goldhar is desperate to change, with a budget of around NIS 100 million.
Some 7,000 yellow-and-blue fans have already bought season tickets and will first and foremost be hoping there is no repeat of the 2005/06 season.
That was the year Maccabi shocked Israeli soccer by signing three of the biggest names of the time, bringing in Avi Nimni, Eyal Berkovic and Croatian Giovanni Rosso. The side was nicknamed the Galacticos after the star-studded Real Madrid teams, but following a poor start to the season coach Nir Klinger was sent packing and the squad disintegrated just as fast as it was assembled.
There is, however, far more reason for optimism ahead of the coming campaign.
It will surely take time for the team to gel, but unlike five years ago, Maccabi has gone for a mixture of talent, experience and youth, as well as adding veteran Yossi Mizrahi to the coaching staff to help manager Avi Nimni with the running of team affairs.
Tel Aviv will have a completely new backfour this season, with Israel international Avi Strul and Brazilian Nivaldo to team-up in the center of defense and blue-and-white regulars Klemi Saban and Yoav Ziv to play on the right and left, respectively.
Bosnian Haris Medunjanin, Cameroonian Albert Baning and Malian Sidibe Djibril are all eventually expected to play in the side’s midfield, although the latter will likely not start on Thursday, with Shiran Yeini to play in his place.
Strikers Roberto Colautti and Barak Itzhaki will likely link-up in attack, with fellow new signing Eliran Atar to wait for his chance on the bench.
In fact, only two players from last season’s squad are expected to be first-team regulars, with Liran Strauber maintaining his position as the side’s first goalkeeper and midfielder Maor Buzaglo to be given another chance to realize his potential at a big club.
The start of every season is a time of hope for fans, especially after your team has gone through a complete overhaul.
The one thing Maccabi needs now is patience from the supporters and media, but unfortunately for Goldhar, that is one thing money can’t buy.
It will not be fair to judge this new Tel Aviv team until the end of the season, but only immediate results will prevent a backlash. Succeed or fail, Maccabi will be one of the stories of the season and it all starts at Bloomfield on Thursday night.