Israel’s U-19 squad qualified for the European Championships in Hungary at the end of July with a win over Georgia 1-0. The victory over Georgia coupled with a 4-0 win over Cyprus and 1-0 against Switzerland gave the U-19’s under coach Eli Ohana one of the 7 tickets available for the 2014 Championships which run from July 19-30. Yossi Benayoun who was on the last team that made it to the Euros 17 years ago said, “it’s important to continue to invest in the youth and to understand that our (Israel) football has a good base and a promising future.”
While that may be 100% true and correct, the senior National team readies itself for their 2nd friendly in North America, playing Honduras in Houston Sunday night after getting thrashed at the Azteka in Mexico City against a World Cup bound Mexico team 3-0. In a certain sense the two teams are exact opposites. The youth division seems to be heading in the right direction and the senior team heading the wrong way. Coach Eli Gutman will make some wholesale changes tonight inserting Bibras Natcho into the starting lineup among other changes, but the general direction of the National team is troubling to say the least.
Yes, Gutman deserved another chance managing them as there was really no other alternative, and yes he is going to attempt to inject some younger, newer players that have gone through the youth system, but there seems to be a lack of cohesiveness between the players and with a game against Belgium looming just 3 months away, Israel’s Euro 2016 campaign may end before it begins. The match against Honduras may be the last chance Gutman gets to see his charges playing as a team before the games begin in September and that reality must be very tough one for him to look at.
But when I look at the Israel National teams and their progress at the youth level, I keep thinking about what kind of find German Michael Nees was for Israel and his instant impact as technical director of the whole Israel youth system has been. Nees, who is coaching the U-21 team after Guy Luzon left to take the helm at Belgium outfit Standard Liege, has his imprint all over the youngsters as he was also in attendance in Nyon to see the U-19’s advance to the Euros. A veteran of managing in Africa and the Rwanda national team his addition to the staff by Avi Luzon has been a stroke of genius.
Nees has not only been able to elevate the professionalism of the players but has instilled a confidence across the board that yes, Israel can be a footballing power in Europe and the world. If countries as small or even smaller than Israel can produce top level footballers, there should be absolutely no reason for Israel not to be able to do the same or even better. Israel, a leader in technology, medicine, pharmaceuticals & more should also have the ability to train and nurture athletes who can be at the peak of their sport.
As Michael Nees continues his quiet work and as the youth players continue to mature and move up the national team ladder, Israel is setting itself up for success for years to come and is giving those youth the skills needed to become professionals in every sense of the word. With that hope comes the opportunity to position themselves as the leaders of the next generation of Israeli footballers and excel where others have not.