Maccabi Tel Aviv crashed out of Europe last night going home on aggregate with Asteras Tripolis 3-3, though Maccabi won the “home” leg 3-1, but lost the away match 2-0 in Greece. With Maccabi not making it through to the UEFA Europa League group stages, there will be no Israeli representatives in any of the European Competitions this season. After Maccabi had won the domestic league title for the second straight year, this coming campaign with returning head coach Oscar Garcia was supposed to be an opportunity to better their Europa League knock out round appearance last year when they were defeated by Basel FC.
Unfortunately it was not to be as Maccabi Tel Aviv never quite had the chance to do so for many reasons, none more important than the 50 day war between Hamas terrorists in Gaza and Israel. The conflict sent all of Israel’s European representatives to Cyprus in order to play their “home” games in front of very few fans. Is this the biggest reason for their failure? Yes. Is this the only reason for their failure? Absolutely Not.
Going into technical director Jordi Cryuff’s third year at Maccabi, hopes were running high as the squad under last year’s head coach Paulo Sousa played at even a higher level than they did in Cryuff’s first year when Oscar Garcia was at the helm. With Garcia coming back after a year at Brighton in the English Championship the stage was set for the Spaniard to direct the club he began shaping a year earlier into the UEFA Champions League. A chance to take the Israeli side a step closer to becoming a European power similar to it’s basketball compatriot would not be an easy task but one Cryuff & Garcia thought he would be able to navigate.
But then it all started to go wrong.
Cryuff in the past had been able to bring in quality players during the summer & winter transfer periods but was unable to pick up a game changing player as qualification grew near. At the same time owner Mitch Goldhar’s representative, Cypriot Jack Angelides left to become president of PAOK in Greece, leaving a huge vacuum that had been the strong arm behind Maccabi. Without Angelides’ presence behind the scenes there was a lack of direction that Cryuff would have to contend with himself.
Though Cryuff was able to bring in Israeli striker Eden Ben Basat from Toulouse and midfielder Nosa Igiebor from Real Betis it happened very late in the game for Coach Garcia to really implement his methodical offense. The Israeli international and former Hapoel Tel Aviv man respectively, arrived just in time for the Champions League 3rd round qualification matches against Maribor and never had a chance to fit into the team and direction that Garcia was preaching.
Not only were the additions made late in the game, but unfortunately, Cryuff was unable to bring in a top foreign player that could have made a true impact in Maccabi’s fortunes and when the war really started up there was almost zero chance that a top level player would come to Israel.
Getting back to the war, with no real home games in Tel Aviv and having to play in Cyprus only a few hundred supporters made the trek to see Maccabi and though they may have cheered at 120% it would never be enough compared to 13-14k at a raucous Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv. Yes, the 12th man does make a huge difference in aiding a club and that fact can not be discounted. Not only did that play a factor but also that the team had to train when in Tel Aviv under constant air raid sirens going off that can assuredly not be conducive in preparing for some of the most important matches of the year.
As well, Garcia, who had been worried two years earlier during the Amud Anan operation which set off sirens in the Tel Aviv area and had been pressured by his family then to leave Israel could not give 100% of his abilities during this current campaign.
One can say he was earning a lot of money and as a professional he should have stuck it out and not abandoned his team by leaving for the second time in a 15 month period, but reality is that family for a foreigner in a country of conflict is going to be more important than his sticking around feeling queasy. Was this the only reason he left? No, there are reports that he had some disagreements over player personnel and was upset with Angelides moving on, plus some opportunities in England opened up that weren’t available earlier in the year, but the war was certainly a huge factor, and one can’t blame him for that.
But at the end of the day, along with all the issues above, Jordi Cryuff made one huge, glaring mistake in the whole process by going back in time. More often than not, you can never recreate the magic that existed in the past and in the case of Maccabi taking Oscar Garcia back, this move was going backwards and not forwards.
We know that Cryuff and Garcia are close and Jordi’s comfort level with Garcia is key, however, this error to me was perhaps the biggest mistake in a reign that has been almost error free.
One could see that under Garcia this time around Maccabi looked sluggish and not as crisp as they did last season under Sousa or the year before when Garcia had been the bench boss. Garcia laid the foundation with Cryuff and Sousa proved to be a most worthy replacement one that was able to take Maccabi to the next level both on and off the pitch.
Once it was clear that Sousa was leaving Cryuff had to think about who would be able to take the club to further heights with another chance to make it into the Champions League, but settled on comfort rather than confidence. It seems he has now corrected this wrong by bringing in Pako Ayestaran who worked for many years under Rafa Benitez and is a brilliant football mind both in physical and mental development but will have to wait yet another year to get another crack at Europe.
With that in mind the question will now be which players if any move from Maccabi to other clubs in a Europe. Who will stay and who will go. Could ‘keeper Juan Pablo be on his way out after some weak efforts thus far? Certainly as Israel National team keeper Ariel Harush is available. Helsinki has already made a move to pick up Rada Prica for their Europa League run and Paulo Sousa & Basel have never hidden their desire to bring in top midfielder Eran Zahavi.
The club Ayestaran saw taken out by Asteras may not be the same squad he inherits when the Israel Football Season starts in 2 weeks, but he will certainly have one of the better equipped teams in Israel with only Maccabi Haifa & Hapoel Beer Sheva being rivals for the Champions League 2nd round qualification spot.
In what could be Jordi Cryuff’s final season at Maccabi it would be prudent for owner Mitch Goldhar to begin the process of continuation for the day after in order to ensure that the yellow and blue don’t fall back further in time once the year ends. Could Ayestaran be the man to guide Maccabi on and off the pitch for years to come? Potentially yes. But the jury is still out as he has yet to be formally introduced as Maccabi’s new coach. As they say, only time will tell.