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Champions League Aspirations?

Maccabi Tel Aviv are less than three weeks away from opening their 2015-16 season with the second round Champions League qualifying match in Malta against FC Hibernians. A win in the two legged tie will be a small step towards reaching the coveted Champions League group stage, but is Maccabi capable of making it all the way to this Elite European competition.

Maccabi Tel Aviv introduces Slavisa Jokanovic

Maccabi Tel Aviv introduces Slavisa Jokanovic

On Tuesday, the Yellow-and-Blue officially unveiled their new coach Slavisa Jokanovic, their fourth coach in four seasons, and held their first official practice session for the upcoming campaign. In his introductory press conference, Jokanovic played down the pressure of reaching the group stage, “this is my dream and the club’s dream, but it is not a simple task.” However, we also know that this not the club’s sole aspiration. Jokanovic added, “Maccabi have to improve in all aspects of their game.”

Sporting director Jordi Cruyff spoke right after Jokanovic was unveiled, and stressed that the “bread and butter” of the team is winning the League. “Why? From Israel, winning the domestic league is the only way to make it to the Champions League.”

Maccabi Tel Aviv Technical Director Jordi Cruyff

Maccabi Tel Aviv Technical Director Jordi Cruyff

If Maccabi Tel Aviv are to reach the third quaifying round, they could face the likes of Red Bull Salzburg the champions of Austria, FC Basel the Swiss champs, Viktoria Plzen who are the Czech Republic title holders and other tough opponents. Tel Aviv won’t be seeded should they reach this stage this, therefore it seems like a very tough task reaching the Champions League proper this season.

In order to reach the group stage, Maccabi would have to spend a large amount of money on one or two top notch foreign players, but Jordi Cruyff said, “We have a turnover of 600,000 Euros on foreign players in my years at the club. I do not believe that we should be spending a huge amount on such a player because it takes time for the foreign player to adjust to Israel and for us as a club to adjust to him.” Surely is can be concluded that Maccabi will continue to focus on buying the best Israeli players in the market, whether they play in Israel at the moment or abroad. Cruyff stressed that, “80% of our players are local and this formula has been quite successful until now.”

Monas Dabbur-Courtesy UEFA.com

Monas Dabbur-Courtesy UEFA.com

It seems like the team’s prime target is striker Munas Dabbur from Grasshopper Zurich who was sold by Maccabi to the Swiss outfit just a season and a half ago for 300,000 Euros. However, to reobtain his services they will now have to pay a large sum ranging between 1ME and 2ME, but Dabbur answers Cruyff’s criteria and he is only 23 years old.

With Maccabi heading for training camp in Austria on Sunday, the squad will begin to reacclimatize themselves for the new season that starts just a short time after the last one ended. It seems clear that if Maccabi are to bring in new foreigners, these players will join the club during training camp.

At Maccabi’s first training session of the new year, Jokanovic observed the methods of one of the holdover coaches from prior campaigns, Juan Torrijo and he also had a friendly conversation with striker Barak Itzhaki. No conclusions will be or even could be made by the new manager as this was the first time he got to see his players live and in action. Moreover, the Israel National Team players weren’t present as they will join the training camp later this week.

Maccabi Tel Aviv face a tough task ahead in order to reach the Champions League, but should they get to the final qualifying stage of the competition in late August they will be guaranteed a spot in the group stages of the Europa League. Back in 2013/14 they had an impressive season where they reached the last 32 of the event and were eventually knocked out by FC Basel. It seems like making it to the Europa League is a far more realistic objective for this coming year.

In the Israeli arena, Maccabi Tel Aviv will not face stiff competition, as former coach Pako Ayesteran said, “we are our toughest competitor,” and anything but a championship will be a huge surprise. Maccabi are also the defending State Cup and Toto Cup holders, but in cup competitions the team usually plays a weakened side, so no title is guaranteed in these tournaments.

An interesting season lies ahead of us. Will Maccabi Tel Aviv be playing the likes of Juventus, Barcelona or Chelsea should they reach the group stage of the Champions League? That remains to be seen, however the deck is stacked against them for this coming year. However, we will know the answer to this question very soon.