On the Offensive / Against Most Odds

Yaakov Shahar is expected to call a meeting with Elisha Levy and close a contract extension with the Maccabi Haifa coach.

Next week, a few hours after they become 100 percent certain of the Premier League championship, Yaakov Shahar should call a meeting with Elisha Levy and close a contract extension with the Maccabi Haifa coach.

Levy may not be the coach of choice among Israeli sports commentators. He also has his share of opponents among Maccabi Haifa fans. But no one deserves it more than he does, especially now that he has removed the last question mark - about his ability to perform under pressure and collect the title his club should have.

Sharon Bukov

Haifa has made more impressive runs to the soccer championship, but the title it is on the verge of grabbing is palpably one of the more significant ones. The following statement should not be taken out of proportion, but what is going on in Haifa bears some resemblance to the story of Manchester United in English football.

Manchester United's nearly two decades of dominance has been peppered with championships. Some were won by stronger line-ups; other titles were eked out against all odds. Alex Ferguson is behind this concept at United. Elisha Levy is begining to ensure the same level of dominance for Haifa.

First, Levy managed to help his players recover from the trauma of losing the championship last season. Later, instead of bemoaning the loss of four top players in Shlomi Arbeitman, Dekel Keinana, Jorge Texeira and Beram Kayal, Levy invested in getting the most out of Tomer Hemed, Lior Refaelov and Arik Benado. The Haifa coach used the rest of his time to guarantee that the club would have a bright future in the likes of Idan Vered, Taleb Twatiha, Mohammad Ghadir and Eyal Golasa.

The Haifa which is about to win this season's championship is not yet at its best. Rather, it is in a transition year. Though it is now on its way to celebrating the championship, it could just as easily have suffered an all-out disaster.

Go back a moment to the bets the pundits made at the beginning of the season, or even a few weeks ago, and you'll see the greatness of Levy's achievement. It wasn't against all odds, because this is still Maccabi Haifa. But it certainly was against most of the odds.

Few coaches have brought Shahar a championship that cost the owner so little. Few have contributed as much to both the present and the future of the club as Levy has. And it's doubtful that Shahar had as much synergy with any of those coaches as he does with Levy. It is a relationship founded on complete trust, a blossoming partnership, and above all, one with no excuses or hints toward the owner in moments of failure.

It would be odd for Shahar to let go of someone who has fought to be a leader, a top-notch coach who was state champion two of the past three seasons.

The first time many Israelis became acquainted with Levy was in the Doron Tsabari/ Rino Tzor "Underdogs: A War Movie," when he was coaching Hapoel Beit She'an and fighting off relegation. No one at that time, including Levy himself, dreamed that such a movie could have such a happy ending. But he deserves it.