The Last Word: Can 2007's disappointments be overturned

The success stories of Betar and Pe'er haven't managed to hide the failures of numerous other Israelis teams and organizations.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
There were numerous success stories in Israeli sports in 2007, many of which have been highlighted in these pages over the last few weeks. But at the same time that Betar Jerusalem was being molded into a championship winning side and Shahar Pe'er was smashing away her opposition, there were a number of teams and organizations which failed to live up to their expectations. The national soccer team led the way, most obviously in the way it capitulated at Wembley Stadium against what is now widely seen as an extremely weak England side. Other disappointments included the much touted Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer team, the extremely hyped Israel Baseball League, and of course perennial basketball champion Maccabi Tel Aviv. Every team and organization which fell short of the mark has ample opportunity to address and overturn these disappointments in 2008, but only if those in charge recognize and admit to the reasons for those failures. That Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon has decided to retain the services of national soccer coach Dror Kashtan is a little worrying in itself. Kashtan came into the job with a reputation for managing to get the very best out of his players, be it at Hapoel Petah Tikva or Hapoel Tel Aviv. Fans were expecting much from Kashtan¹s team, with a strong group of youngsters such as Amit Ben-Shushan and Ben Sahar in the squad alongside more experienced heads like Yossi Benayoun and Tal Ben-Haim. Clearly Israel was in a difficult Euro 2008 qualifying group, but surely there was a chance of qualifying. However, since the November 2006 home defeat to Croatia it all began going very wrong. The pinnacle of the failure came in London. It wasn¹t just the 3-0 result that hurt, but the way the team played. Kashtan showed not only that he was unable to inspire the players to overcome the Wembley pressure but that he could get the tactics disastrously wrong. The win over Russia in November showed signs of improvement, but for Israel to have any real chance of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup drastic changes must be made in the mindset of the coach and players. It is Kashtan¹s job to convince his playing staff that they are good enough to beat every team they face. Hapoel Tel Aviv has had a similar problem but to a much greater extent. Like at the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team, the Hapoel management¹s choice of first team coach was practically unfathomable and Guy Luzon appeared destined for disaster from day one. It was painful to see Luzon throwing money at poor quality players who unsurprisingly failed to perform both in the local league and in Europe. Hapoel is now in an extremely precarious position, with new coach Eli Gutman not looking any more impressive than his predecessor. Maccabi Tel Aviv¹s basketball team also lacked that crucial confidence under Oded Katash, and like Luzon, he had to go. Tzvika Sherf has the experience and the attitude to motivate the Maccabi players, something Gutman needs to learn and instill in his squad if the unthinkable is to be avoided and Hapoel Tel Aviv is not relegated in May. Both Hapoel Tel Aviv¹s soccer team and Maccabi¹s basketball team had massive potential at the start of the season and the situation must be turned around. The Israel Baseball League was another of the prominent flops of last year. While those running the league may protest that it was only the first year and the league was initially aimed at Americans, that was the biggest problem and led to practically empty stands for many games. The fact is the IBL was not a success. It was hyped and hyped and promoted, but to the wrong people. By the end of the summer few Israelis still had any idea the league existed. And it was beset with problems which never should have arisen. From the late realization that the floodlights at Kibbutz Gezer were not strong enough, forcing games to finish early, to the complaints from the players about the conditions at their living quarters, the league was not run in the professional manner it should have been. It must have been a relief for many of the top IBL personnel when they finally resigned in November. Ex-IBL commissioner Daniel Kurtzer, ex- PR representative Marty Appel and other members of the advisory board soon saw that "the league¹s finances and business operations were not handled in a... professional manner" Founder Larry Baras has promised that the IBL will return this summer, and even released a schedule, but there will be no point even bothering if the league is not managed correctly, marketed properly to local Israelis and more Israelis are not given the chance to play. Otherwise the failures will just continue in 2008.