The Last Word: Schum-Spiegel effect could make it happen

After employing six coaches in the last two years, Gaydamak finally seems to be happy with his choice.

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
All too often the appointment of a former coach to work above the head coach at a soccer club, in a newly created position, causes deep tensions between the two personalities, something that can negatively affect the players and the performance of the team. The specifics of the role, usually called something like "Director of Football," are often little vague and ambiguous, making the head coach feel somewhat concerned that the new man will be going above his head and soon be telling him which players to pick. At English club Chelsea, for example, the decision by the management to appoint Israeli Avraham Grant as Director of Football a few weeks ago led head coach Jose Mourinho to nearly immediately vociferously warn Grant against becoming too involved in team affairs. Mourinho was clearly antagonized by the decision and decided it was important to stand his ground. The situation contrasted with that at Betar Jerusalem in November 2005 when owner Arkadi Gaydamak brought in Frenchman Luis Fernandez to work in a position intriguingly titled General Manager. Even though Fernandez insisted he would not tread on anybody's toes, Dutchman Ton Caanen, who had only been appointed head coach a month or so earlier, felt threatened. And rightly so. A few weeks later Caanen was unceremoniously turfed out and Fernandez became the coach. So fans of Betar would have had every right to be concerned when it was announced in June that Giora Spiegel was to work as the "Professional Manager" alongside head coach Itzhak Schum. However, their fears have been dispelled in recent weeks as it has become clear that the two are working well together and have created a new air of professionalism and a sense of purpose around the Betar Jerusalem camp. Schum is a coach with experience who has already led a team to the Champions League group stages (Maccabi Haifa in 2002) and is relishing Tuesday night's qualifier against FC Copenhagen at Teddy Stadium. Speigel is a veteran manager. The atmosphere at Betar contrasts to the feeling at the club this time last year. While then-coach Ossie Ardiles's team also spent two separate weeks at training camps in Europe last summer, they came into the season looking and acting like a group of players just getting to know each other. It was hardly a surprise when Betar was dumped out of the UEFA Cup at the hands of Dimamo Bucharest in the second qualifying round. The players appeared disjointed and unmotivated, as if they knew they would lose. This time it is different. After employing six coaches in the last two years, Gaydamak finally seems to be happy with his choice. The appointment of Yossi Mizrahi a few months into last season was a disaster waiting to happen and Gaydamak was right to get rid of him. Schum has made few changes to last season's Betar squad, which won the Israeli Premier League without ever playing particularly well. But he has managed to create an organized and motivated team, with the players eager to perform. Schum's independence has been crucial to the team and could make the difference on Tuesday. Striker Barak Itzhaki looks dangerous, midfielder Gal Alberman classy and veteran defender Arik Benado a rock. The one mistake will again be the decision to buy a little-known South American. Romulo may have scored in the Toto Cup at the weekend but missed three easy chances and is unlikely to be the hero on Tuesday. It is always difficult to do well in these European qualifiers as they have to be held in the summer, before most European league seasons have even begun. And Copenhagen has an immediate advantage over Betar as the Danish season is already four games in. But the importance of the game is obvious and has motivated all involved. If Betar can knock out Copenhagen it will be only two games away from the holy grail - the Champions League group stage, with Benfica standing in its path. Even though the Jerusalem team was beaten 1-0 in last week's first leg, it has every right to feel positive about the tie. The passionate crowd at Teddy will act as a 12th man. An early goal will be crucial, as will a solid defense. If the yellow and black can ride on the back of the cauldron-like atmosphere in a packed home stadium it will have a great chance of pulling an historic win out of the bag.