The Last Word Long Live the Foreign Coach

Eitan Bekerman
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Eitan Bekerman

What a fuss Israeli coaches, headed by super-manager Nir Levin, made when a wave of foreign soccer coaches arrived here. These foreigners will take away our jobs, went the claim steeped in historic xenophobia. Levin proposed regulations to limit the professional immigration, no less.

Heroes of world soccer like Luis Fernandez (Beitar Jerusalem fans cry over his departure even today) and Ossie Ardiles (even though he wasn't successful) weren't fitting enough for us. The foundations of soccer here were laid by European Jews, mostly from Hakoah Vienna. The first steps of progress were accomplished by coaches like Gyula Mandi (national team coach from 1959 to 1963) and Milovan Ciric (national team coach 1965-68), who hailed from Eastern Europe.

The great leap forward of the 1960s was engineered by an Israeli, Emmanuel Scheffer, the coach who took Israel to the 1970 World Cup. Born in Germany, he learned the basics of soccer in Poland, went to coaching school in Cologne, and was nicknamed "The German." When he made his players practice twice a day, Israeli soccer was shaken.

Lotthar Matthaus grasped quickly after his arrival that this country is full of talent, with a supposedly professional league that is thoroughly unprofessional. In practice, he teaches his players how to pass the ball, how to cross, and if they don't get it right the 70th time, they will by the 200th time. When it comes to Matthaus, the players don't come to work, he comes to work and whoever doesn't jive with that is free to split.

With him, you learn what the Germans do in dead-ball situations - the goal by Ze'ev Haimovich on Monday was a classic example. With him, you learn how to attack with defenders, and how to shout down opponents when necessary.

Matthaus recognized the pluses and minuses of his team, and because of that he allows Klemi Saban and Dedi Ben Dayan to attack at will while being covered by three defenders. That's how he utilizes Luis Marin's leadership despite the defender's flaws on the pitch. In midfield, he puts Almog Cohen, who said earlier this season that he learned more from Matthaus in three months than he had his whole life. And he turns a mediocre player like Shalev Menashe into a star.

As someone who beat Maradona in the 1990 World Cup final, he doesn't panic that Yaniv Katan is back in form. To his credit, and only thanks to him, we have a true league this season.

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