Sinai Says: Yellow-and-black-and-blue

Maccabi's struggles are distancing the club from its storied past.

Maccabi Tel Aviv fans let down 311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Maccabi Tel Aviv fans let down 311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
It’s as if something has changed in the club’s DNA.
As if some sort of mutation has turned losing into something acceptable at the most storied team in Israeli soccer.
Maccabi Tel Aviv’s 3-1 defeat to Hapoel Tel Aviv on Sunday extended its winless streak in derbies to 10 matches, with the yellow-and-blue not beating its arch-rival in the Premier League since March 2008.
Sunday’s result also saw leagueleader Hapoel open a seven-point gap over its cross-town rival, which has lost three straight matches and has won just one of its past seven league encounters.
However, far more concerning for the record-19-time Israeli champion should be the way its fans accepted Sunday’s painful defeat almost without a murmur.
The club's management, coaching staff and players can delude themselves that Maccabi's supporters' quick and quiet exit from Bloomfield Stadium had something to do with the fans maturing or discovering a new-found patience.
However, the reaction of the yellowand- blue’s faithful is, more than anything else, a testament to the hopelessness that now engulfs a club that for all its past success has only won one championship in the last 15 years.
There is only a certain amount of heartache a fan can take before desperation takes over. Sunday’s derby defeat may have pushed many over that threshold of misery.
Maccabi’s supporters have experienced more than their fair share of disappointment over the last few years, but the team’s recent struggles were made all the more frustrating by the yellow-and-blue’s excellent start to the season.
It seemed that coach Moti Ivanir had found the right combination between experience and innocence, giving the products of the club’s youth department plenty of opportunities while blending them wisely with expensive recruits.
Maccabi won five of its first six league games to lead the standings and stunned Greek giant Panathinaikos to reach the group stage of the Europa League for the first time in club history.
Optimism was abundant at Kiryat Shalom, but the wheels have since come off a club that used to be the Rolls Royce of Israeli soccer, with Maccabi picking up just five of a possible 21 points from its last seven league matches, while suffering humbling defeats in the Europa League.
Maccabi has only found the back of the net once in its last four league encounters, with Barak Itzhaki’s goal in the derby defeat little consolation for Ivanir’s team.
The delicate balance that led Maccabi to success at the start of the season deteriorated into total chaos once the defeats began to pile up, raising the pressure to an unreasonable level.
Owner Mitch Goldhar steadied the ship somewhat by holding a press conference on Saturday and assuring the reporters on hand that Ivanir is going nowhere.
But it seems that all he has managed to do is lower expectations even further for a club that in recent years has begun every season talking up its chances of winning a championship, only to completely dismiss its prospects with the campaign not even close to its halfway mark.
“We are at the beginning of what I consider to be my investment,” Goldhar said on Saturday. “I don’t appraise my investments after such a short period of time. This is something that takes time. What we have been going through lately is difficult but it is also normal. We are all learning. Discipline, proper attitude, work ethic and lifestyle are all things that need to be inculcated into the culture of Maccabi.
“It is part of the long term best interests of the organization. I’m confident it will pay dividends.
“If we take the season in the right way I will not be disappointed even if we don’t win the championship. The way is more important. The results will come.”
Goldhar admitted that both he and Ivanir have made mistakes and are learning from them. But Maccabi fans must be wondering if they need to make every mistake in the book before the team finally succeeds.
There should be little doubt that Maccabi supporters are extremely fortunate to have Goldhar as an owner, and I personally believe that Ivanir should be given at least until the end of the season to work with the squad he has built at Kiryat Shalom.
However, if Sunday’s showdown showed us anything, it is not that Hapoel has a far better team than Maccabi, but that the yellow-and-blue enters every match expecting the worst to happen, and unsurprisingly, it often does.
Underachievement has become the trademark of the club once known for its relentless pursuit of trophies.
Until they are proven otherwise, the fans will presume that the downfall is always around the corner. They have become so accustomed to disappointment that when it arrives – as it did on Sunday – they just drop their heads, close their eyes and dream of better days.
No wonder they no longer believe.
[email protected]
Follow Allon on Twitter: @AllonSinai