Maccabi Tel Aviv has no doubt been struggling over the past few seasons since winning back-to-back titles in 2019 and 2020 under then head coach Vladimir Ivic. The Serbian came into the club in the summer of 2019 and had to clean up a bit of mess since the yellow-and-blue had last won the title three years earlier.
New bench boss Robbie Keane is coming into the role in somewhat of a similar situation the only difference being that Maccabi Haifa just rolled off three championships in a row and before that it was Hapoel Beer Sheva who took a three-peat. Both teams however were under the tutelage of Barak Bachar who departed last month to take over the top job at Red Star Belgrade.
Keane won’t have to contend with Bachar and that is good news for Maccabi fans as they look now to build a squad capable of advancing to the group stages of the UEFA Conference League and compete for the Israeli league title.
While Keane comes into the position without having been a head coach in Europe, he does have quite the resume as a player and has also been a capable assistant under a number of top flight managers. The Irish international has scored well over 300 goals in 724 appearances for the likes of Tottenham Hotspur and the Los Angeles Galaxy where he teamed up with David Beckham.
The 42-year old’s goal is to become as good as a coach or even better than he was as a player and Maccabi Tel Aviv was as good as any option out there. With the ability to play in continental qualifiers and the chance to compete for a place in the prestigious Champions League should Maccabi win the league, plus the backing of owner Mitch Goldhar and CEO Ben Mansford who will give Keane all of the tools to succeed.
Just as Maccabi Tel Aviv began their pre-season training sessions, Keane and Goldhar looked ahead at the challenges that will be facing the team, what the new bench boss brings to the table and why the owner decided to make a coaching change.
“Ultimately, I was not satisfied with our last season,” Goldhar began. “I felt that we needed a change and a fresh start which starts with the head coach. It is very difficult to tolerate and to live with the situation and I am not happy. Robbie and I have talked about this and it’s important for us to focus on ourselves and not our arch rivals. We can do better and with proper work ethic and commitment, respect for the club and the sport and with a deep passion and ambition to win we will make the appropriate changes and the rest will look after themselves.”
Keane opened up his remarks explaining why he came on board and made the move to Israel, “It’s a good challenge for me and I’m very excited. I was waiting for the right opportunity and that’s why I’m here. To work with people who have the same vision and enthusiasm as me and my coaching staff and people who I can work together with. I want people with me whom I can trust and work together for the football club and that’s why I’m here right now. I look forward to the opportunity and challenge.”
As for the style of play Keane would like to employ, the former all-world striker began to break down his philosophy, “I’m a coach that’s what’s to win and that’s most important. Of course, I have my own philosophy and I want to play some attractive football and the fans can be very proud of and watch this team flourish. We want to dominate the ball as much as possible and be clever in the final third and be quicker. I want my team to be very fit and commit to training every day and work hard, that want to learn and the players I spoke to what that which is something I’m very excited about.”
It was clear that Keane’s bubbling enthusiasm was infectious and that is also a point that sold Goldhar that he had found the right person to lead his team over the next couple of seasons.
“Robbie and I met numerous times during the process virtually and I was struck with Robbie’s ambition to apply his extraordinary winning character to his coaching career. Together with his vast experience and knowledge of the game I felt that our interests were very much aligned with our mutual ambitions and it was the moment to give Robbie the chance to apply that as a head coach and for us to benefit from his experience and winning character.”
Keane spoke about some of the characteristics that he brings to the table, “I’ve been the leader at a number of football clubs as the captain and that is a huge responsibility. I will push players to be better every day and I’m not coming in here as a novice as I’ve been coaching for a number of years. In terms of the team going forward it’s about winning more game than the opposing teams.”
There was much criticism from his home country of Ireland after it was announced that he agreed to coach an Israeli team but, Keane put those to bed very quickly after being asked about coming to the Holy Land, “I don’t want to get into politics. This is the last time I will say it. I’m here as a football man and someone that loves the game. I will certainly just focus on that but thanks for your question.”
The Dublin native is familiar with some of the current and former players in the country one of which was his former Liverpool teammate, Israeli great Yossi Benayoun as well as yellow-and-blue marksman Eran Zahavi.
“I’ve spoken to Yossi and I know him very, very well. He’s a legend here and great guy. I think I have a good sounding baord and I picked Yossi’s brain. I also spoke to Eran and I’m excited to work with him. I know people that know him very well and he’s got a great character and he’s a great leader and he’s going to be very important for this team going forward. We need everyone pulling in the same direction. I think we have some great people on board.”
Goldhar ensured that he is still very much involved and is also continuing to invest in the team and in Keane, “Robbie will have a team that will be very important to the support system. We are investing in some areas that to date we have not which are in analytics and date which is very exciting. I think it will be important for me and Jack (Angelides, the owner’s representative) to be around and we are together and excited about this. It has been difficult from pre-Covid and Covid for me to be present. I’m very committed to continuing to evolve as a club and invest in the right places and especially around Robbie.”
As Keane is still in the infancy of the coaching career, he is well aware that there will be criticism levied at him, but that won’t phase him as he looks to take the positive pressure and use that to succeed in his goals with the club and on a personal level.
“Everyone is always going to have an opinion, that’s football, that’s why we love it. I’ve been in the game for a long time, at a high level for a long time, I’m used to criticism. Does it bother me? No. All I can do is the best I can do for the football club. It might take a little bit of time but I’m here to hit the ground running from day one. I strive for pressure. I’ve been used it to since I was younger. It doesn’t affect me. I’m a very secure person. I know what I need to do and I’m confident in myself and the team that will be around me. I look forward to it.”
Keane knows that he will ultimaety be judged on his results and wherever he has gone he has been a winner which is what he wants to imbue in his Maccabi team.
“I’m a winner, I want to win all the time. I want people around me that has the same mentality as me. I want them to play in a certain way and all pulling in the same direction. Everywhere I’ve been in my career, I’ve always gone for the reason to win and it’s no different here. I’m here to win and I’ll do everything I can to make this team a big, big success.”