On Tuesday night Maccabi Tel Aviv showed that they are just not ready for the big time, the Champions League groups stages. The yellow and blue side was outsmarted by a crafty, intelligent and professional side in Viktoria Plzen who knew exactly how to take advantage of Maccabi’s mistakes and make the home team pay for them dearly.
Once Plzen had two away goals by the 21st minute the story had almost ended before it even started for Maccabi. They began well and ended well, but had a bit of trouble in the middle. That unfortunately has been Maccabi’s problem over the last couple of years. Making sure that they don’t make mistakes and if mistakes are made they can be compensated by players who know how to cover for one another.
If you look at the squad that Technical Director Jordi Cruyff built, one would understand that Israeli content is extremely important, crucial to the structure of the team. And that is fine. However, there are a number of issues that need to be urgently addressed. The lack of top of the line foreign players has been a problem from day one. Not only is that a huge issue, but to only use four out of the allotted five places and playing one foreigner short is just simply unacceptable.
Foreign players are supposed to be used to upgrade the team. They are supposed to add to the Israeli content and strengthen the Israeli core of players. But it just hasn’t happened.
Defender Carlos Garcia, ‘keeper Juan Pablo and midfielder Nikola Mitrovic are all nice players, but they just aren’t able to raise the team to the upper echelons. Nosa Igiebor would fall into the category of a player that has been able to add to the club, but he is just a mere one player out of a possible four. How is that last spot not occupied if Maccabi is seriously looking to advance in any European competition?
Another glaring problem is not giving the new Head Coach Slavisa Jokanovic the tools he needs to play the style of game, he likes, he knows and is most comfortable with. Jokanovic who came over from Watford was the key ingredient as the team gained promotion to the English Premier League.
The man knows football, there is no question about that. He gets it left to right, up and down and back and forth. He’s intelligent, savvy and not afraid to speak his mind. But you needed to give him the horses to run with in order for him to succeed.
The team is currently built playing the Pako Ayestaran style of football, the 4-3-3 with Eran Zahavi as a false striker. Now that may be nice for the Ligat Winner, but it’s not good enough for Europe and Jokanovic knows it. He is well aware that the team won’t move into the latter rounds of continental competitions without changing its style and that’s exactly what he has tried to do, unfortunately to no avail, and to no fault of his own.
The tools are just not there. Eden Ben Basat is not up to par and has been a disappointment since joining Maccabi from Toulouse. The pure striker, the pure #9 just doesn’t exist yet at Maccabi and that’s why they were going after a player they once had in Monas Dabbur.
Dabbur was very happy to get the attention in Switzerland as he has been courted for weeks to come back and play in Israel, but Cruyff should have realized that, a) it’s not easy to come home and b) they should have also been looking in other places and not place all of their eggs in that one basket. Maccabi hoped and prayed Dabbur would come back and solve all of the problems plaguing the yellow-and-blue but it was just not to be and the club didn’t upgrade in that position.
Bringing back Avi Rikan to Israel was a wise and financially worthwhile move. He will offer a wealth of options for Jokanovic and can play a number of positions and already did so last night. But one player against a team like Viktoria Plzen just won’t do it, especially when you lose to a team like Hibernians in Malta.
The Europa League could work out for Maccabi but if they go to the playoffs they will be at the mercy of the draw and there are still some very good teams in Europe’s secondary tournament. Playing another year without European competition will be disappointing for the club, management and of course the fans.
There needed to be more planning and more thought as to what to do once you bring in a coach like Jokanovic. It’s as if they gave him a manual car but he only knows how to drive automatic. It’s not fair to him and it’s not fair to the club and the fiasco of him hitting out at management at press conferences because they haven’t provided him with the players he needs could turn out to be a recipe for disaster. It’s just not going to work.
And it’s apparently obvious that it isn’t.