When Vladen Ivic informed Maccabi Tel Aviv that he wanted out of his contract, the yellow-and-blue moved quickly to find a suitable replacement midseason in an odd year that saw the Israel Premier League take a month long break due to the World Cup.
Fortunately for owner Mitch Goldhar it seemed that just the right person was available in Spaniard Aitor Karanka who had just parted ways with La Liga outfit Granada and was in the market to find a new home. Very quickly all of the details were worked out as the “i’s” were dotted and the “t’s” were crossed and Karanka was unveiled at a festive press conference at Bloomfield Stadium just 48 hours ahead of his debut on the sidelines at home against Ashdod on Saturday afternoon.
Over the past few seasons, Maccabi Tel Aviv has not had much luck in terms of head coaches as the position has been a revolving door at the Kiryat Shalom training facility. Following Ivic’s first term as head coach following the 2019-2020 season, the yellow-and-blue welcomed in a slew of bench bosses from Georgios Donis, Patrick van Leeuwen, Mladen Krstajic, Ivic for his seeding term just this past summer and now Karanka.
This move however, seems to go back to the roots of Goldhar’s tenure as owner when he brought in Jordi Cruyff as sports director who was able to steady the ship over a decade ago and lead Maccabi to much success with head coaches, Oscar Garcia, Paulo Sousa and Pako Ayestarán. In fact, Karanka spoke to both Cruyff and Garcia before agreeing to become the next coach of Israel’s most successful franchise.
Karanka not only had a stellar career as a player with Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao but has also been part of coaching staffs at Real with Jose Mourinho and as a head coach in England at Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forrest, Birmingham City and most recently back in his native Spain at Granda before arriving in the Holy Land.
The 49-year old is excited about joining the yellow-and-blue and looks at the opportunity as one that he will be able to succeed in while having fun doing just that at a place where he will be comfortable.
“When I go to a place where they want me, I feel that I can help and do something. The level doesn’t scare me as I was a player with Real Madrid. It’s a pleasure to be here with a great group of people. Maccabi Tel Aviv is at a top level and it doesn’t matter offensively or defensively, I am here to win games and my mentality is to always improve. I want the team to play as good as we can and to make the supporters proud about their team.”
Karanka said that he felt very comfortable with the idea of coming to Maccabi right from the get go of the negotiations, “The first meeting was really, really good and since that day I wanted to come here just from the feelings I had in that meeting. The next meeting that we had was more tactical and about work. The last meeting was with Mitch and I could see that every step in the process was good and that I was going to come to a top club in terms of image and a top club in terms of people working here. That is why things came together so quickly.”
At Maccabi Tel Aviv, the pressure always exists to win and that is something that is part of Karaoke’s lexicon, “The target at Maccabi is to win. I played for five years with Real Madrid and was an assistant at Madrid and played with the Spanish National Team so this has been something natural for me. I don’t care where I am, it is a personal disaster if we don’t win a game. Every single exercise we do is thinking about winning. That is how I have been my entire career, but to win those games you have to start that on the training pitch with a winning mentality.”
Karanka has seen success as a head coach because he understands a simple coaching philosophy, “As a coach you need to adapt to where you are. It’s impossible to convince a player how to play one style. I know the players, their characteristics and I will find the players who can win. But to be a good coach you have to adapt to the players that you have.”
One of the players which Maccabi Tel Aviv hopes that Karanka will be able to take to the next level is starlet Oscar Glouch who showed spurts of greatness under Ivic, “He is a player who will be vital in my system and I like to play with a number 10 and we have that. He is from our academy and is our player so it’s perfect. The quality that he has around him including Eran Zahavi will help him improve. Everyone knows Oscar and in the future they will know him even more.”
The new head coach reiterated that the decision was a simple one for him to come to Israel, “Maccabi has played in the Champions league and outside of Israel everyone knows who Maccabi Tel Aviv is so it was easy to come to this team. It was an easy decision for me. I felt that a coach needs to feel the confidence and good people. I knew that here I was going to find good people and a massive club.”
Karanka couldn’t wait to get to work and see what he can do with the squad he has inherited along with the passionate supporters that he is excited to meet, “I am here less than 24 hours but I signed for 1.5 years and I am thinking about working at the training ground right now. This is a top club and I am not thinking about when I will leave. I can’t wait to start. It’s impossible to live football without the passion. To be a fan you need to have the passion like them. I love football and when there will be 25-30K supporting you at the stadium, it’s very nice.”