After failing to win any of its first four league matches, Maccabi Haifa is looking toward Dekel Keinan to play a central role in the team's rebuilding this season.
Over the summer, the club did not make a special effort to retain Keinan's services. The defender, who received offers from Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Kiryat Shmona during his two-year stint in England, was the one who chose to be loyal to the club he grew up in - even as Cardiff sat him on the bench and later loaned him out to Crystal Palace last season and Bristol City at the beginning of this season.
In the end, Maccabi Haifa's failure in the opening phase of the regular season did the job, and Keinan received an offer from the club.
His renewed debut - he played for the team from 2002 to 2010 - against F.C. Ashdod may have ended in a loss, but his appearance was one of the few bright spots for the Greens.
Keinan says he is convinced he will succeed soon in fulfilling two principle goals he set for himself upon returning to Israel: putting Haifa back on top of the league table, and getting called back up to the Israeli national team.
Keinan, 28, says it was always clear he would only return to Israel for Maccabi Haifa. "I felt at home here," he says. It was hard for me to see myself playing for another club in Israel. Given the situation in England, I decided the best thing for me would be to return. I said that as long as Maccabi Haifa wants me, I'm coming back."
The team he is returning to is virtually unrecognizable to him. Haifa, which usually contests every title and is at the top of the league table from wire to wire, is languishing in 12th place after four games with one point.
"It's true that we never expected to open the season this way," says Keinan. He says Haifa trails by many points, but there are still plenty of games to be played. "Maccabi Haifa still hasn't said the final word on the championship battle," he asserts. "We have a quality team, and we'll have plenty of good games to play and points to win."
He says the criticisms of his team are justified, but the advantage of his team is that it is talented and doesn't let itself get too pressured.
As for Keinan's second goal, national team coach Eli Guttman got a look at him on Saturday. "The national squad was a major consideration in my return to Israel," says Keinan. "I didn't play in England, and it's legitimate not to be called up. Now the burden of proof is on me." he adds. "It's true I practiced at a very high level in England over the last two years, but no practice is worth 90 minutes of league play. Now I understand the true importance of game fitness."
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