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Friday Feature – Haim Silvas, Great for Israel!

Sitting in a quaint diner in Raanana, I wait anxiously for the Hapoel Raanana coach Haim Silvas. As he walks in with assistant coach Alon Ziv, he greets one of his players also eating at the local establishment. It’s an amazing story that he is even still the coach of the club. Silvas almost didn’t make it through his first year, but a crazy turn of events during one week in January makes for a terrific tale that he’ll never forget for the rest of his life, but we’ll get to that a bit later.

Silvas settles down as we greet each other with big smiles on our faces. “I come here occasionally as it’s the closet place to eat near our training facility,” he tells me with exuberant enthusiasm. Sitting across from Silvas, the positive energy that is flowing off of the rookie head coach, lighting up the room is addictive.

“I had a very happy childhood. Things were good and we had everything we needed. As long as I had a soccer ball the world was mine. I started playing when I was seven and participated in a league where I was the youngest player as an 11-year old.”

Silvas grew up in Haifa where he still lives with his wife Inbar and their three children Noa, Maor & Elroi. Ziv, his faithful assistant coach commutes from even further away driving from Nahariya to Haifa to meet his “boss” and good friend as they spend many hours together driving, thinking and talking.

“I had a dream of one day becoming a professional soccer player and I went for my dream. My father was an enormous influence on me and was a big Maccabi Haifa supporter. So I was hooked on Haifa and grew up watching Baruch Maman, Eyal Berkowitz and Reuven Atar.”

Playing right back and then midfielder, Silvas began to move up the ranks and suddenly found himself on the same pitch as the great magician Eyal Berkowitz. “He was such a confident leader both on and off the pitch. Berko always played no matter what and he made everyone around him better. That’s what makes a great leader, teammate and player.” 

The Israel National team was also in the cards as Silvas moved from the youth squad to the senior team as a bright future was seen for this ravishing youngster. However, injuries then began to catch up with him to the point that he thought he may have to retire from the game.

“My knee injury definitely caused some problems and not knowing if I would be able to continue to play was frustrating. Tal Benin & Reuven Atar told me about a special doctor in Italy and I was able to recover enough to have a successful career but not at the levels that I along with others thought I would be able to have.”

Coming back for the injury saw Silvas jumping from team to team which in itself was a huge challenge which he described as, “fighting for your soul and fighting for your life. Money and challenge that is what drove me for the next decade of my life.” 

Speaking to Roy Jankelowitz a reporter for IsraelSport.co.il he commented about Silvas and what kind of player he was, “he was such a quality passer, everyone thought he was going to be one of the greats. However, it was not to be in that realm of soccer, but it could happen as a coach.”

Playing for teams such as Hapoel Kfar Saba, Maccabi Ahi Nazareth and Hapoel Afula, Silvas saw some of the most intimate and interesting stadiums as well as teams the various divisions of Israeli soccer can offer. This also was where he met his good friend and assistant coach Alon Ziv. Playing together at Kfar Saba and moving up a league together made these two aspiring coaches a little bit like the dynamic duo.

Haim Silvas & The Sports Rabbi

Haim Silvas & The Sports Rabbi

At the age of 30 Silvas already knew he wanted to coach and thought he could do better than some of the ones who were plying their trade throughout Israel. During his playing days there were some very good coaches whose styles rubbed off on him including Giora Speigel, Shlomo Sherf and Avraham Grant.

“Coaching is very dynamic. My goal as a coach is to bring my club to the highest possible level. I try to give the feeling that there is a straight and direct path for the team. A plan. Positive team spirit is key as I attempt to be as modest as possible in order to get my points across.”

Silvas began managing with Hapoel Afula the last club that he played with and then moved to Hapoel Raanana as an assistant coach under Menachem Koretzky between 20012-14 before taking the mantle of a Ligat Ha’Al head coach with the same Raanana for this past season.

However, in a crazy turn of events this past year, Silvas was shockingly relieved of his duties as head coach at the beginning of January by owner Asher Alon after the team had been struggling for a number of months. Having gone winless in nine straight matches since November 1, Silvas was replaced and then rehired just days later before the next match! 

“It was nuts! One day in and one day out and then back in again! This is where the hand of God showed itself. I couldn’t believe what was going on. But you know, everything has it’s good side and it’s bad side. Everyone no matter what profession they are in is judged by their results. In this case I was judged, but the book didn’t close on me, it was not signed, sealed and delivered and I was given another chance.”

Since the firing and rehiring, Silvas went on a tear as the club won four in a row and six out of eight including one draw and a loss, just missing out on the upper playoffs. To come so close was in itself a minor miracle as the team had been floundering off the Mediterranean coast.

“As a coach he’s just so intelligent, prepared and does his homework, he knows his game plan and is aware as to his opponent’s strengths and weaknesses,” Jankelowitz concurred.

Hapoel Raanana vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv

Hapoel Raanana vs. Maccabi Tel Aviv

Raanana is a relatively new team in Israel’s top flight league and Silvas also has to gain supporters as the fan base is small. “Every person has to find a suit that fits him or herself. Every year we have to find a suit that will fit us, and every year we try to love up one size bigger. I try to make this team as attractive as possible for the supporters. My job is to continue building until I can’t build anymore and at that point I will have to see and evaluate where I am.”

Being with a smaller club allows Silvas the opportunity to do many things a coach would normally not do in larger organizations. “Tomorrow I’m flying to scout an Albanian player for next season, when you’re a small club with a tight budget you have to do everything. Work is part of all of our lives and being a coach is a 365 day a year job. Coaches never stop working in big clubs or small ones.”

Interestingly enough, Silvas ended up signing Elis Bakaj of Tirana who scored a brace (2 goals) in the derby match he saw. Bakaj had been looked at by various clubs in Italy but while they hemmed and hawed whether or not to sign up the 27-year old, Silvas scooped him up just a week after seeing him live in May as reported by Hemi Uzan of Walla Sports. It’s that keen eye and drive that will continue to help Silvas as he is just at the start of his head coaching career.

Being a coach has many challenges as well as many ups and downs. “It’s a bad feeling to lose no matter what, and when you win you feel like you’re back on the roller coaster. It’s like a storm you’re always moving up and down, back and forth. When you are a coach you don’t just do it for the money, it’s not a normal job there are so many feelings going many different directions. Coaching can sometimes be very rewarding but can also be a very ugly profession.”

As we begin to wrap up I pull out my iPad and put on a YouTube video of a very young Silvas scoring arguably one of the greatest goals in Maccabi Haifa history. “We played the top Dutch team Ajax in a friendly at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium in Haifa after they had won the Champions League. Going into the game I was just a newcomer and didn’t expect to play at all, but I came in to start the second half.”

As the match began to wind down, chances were few and far between but Silvas made his mark in the annals of Haifa History. “I had a chance in injury time where I was able to take the perfect shot to beat the keeper and win the game for us. I didn’t know it at the time as to how important a goal it was for Haifa fans. It’s such an amazing feeling years later when people remind me of the goal and show it to me just like you did now.”

Knowing that he is just in the beginning stages of his coaching career and has a long way to go to become one of the greats Silvas didn’t want to share what his goals or dreams are for the future. Perhaps he thought I would laugh or think he was nuts, but after spending some quality time with him that would be the last thing that one would ever do. Silvas will probably be the one who will have the last laugh. 

As we said our goodbyes, Silvas had some strong words to say about Israel and the place that is allowing him to continue along his way to stardom. “I live in a great country that combines modernization and religion. I’m happy with the good that is here in Israel and I want to live in peace.” 

Silvas is what is very good about Israel.