“You have a good team with disciplined players, no social problems or media scrutiny. Why do you need him? Why bring in a player with so many problems to a healthy team? Don’t bring him, there are other good players. His father will drive you nuts in the media and pressure you every game with ‘Why did you substitute him’ or ‘Why wasn’t he in the starting lineup?’ You don’t need this.”
Hapoel Be’er Sheva coach Elisha Levy heard this monologue last summer from one of his associates when reports first leaked as to Be’er Sheva’s interest in Maor Buzaglo. Levy knew Buzaglo very well – including his ups and downs – and still decided to sign him. The coach was credited with being the man behind Buzaglo’s best season prior to this one, six years ago at Bnei Sakhnin.
Levy responded to his associate this summer by saying: “I know exactly how to handle Buzaglo. Not every coach can bring out his potential. You’ll see that all the buzz around him will focus on his success and his gelling with the team.”
The same associate called Levy several games into the season and admitted: “You were absolutely right.”
Fifteen games into the season, Be’er Sheva is second in the league, and Buzaglo is not only a regular starter but one of the team’s leaders. He leads the league with six assists, on top of his four goals.
“He’s quietly aiming for 10 to 12 goals and another 15 assists this season,” one of his teammates told Haaretz. “He knows that if the team continues in this form, he will reach those stats. It will be a great season for him.”
Buzaglo actually needed Be’er Sheva more than the club needed him. Obviously, the 26 year old cannot succeed at every club or under any coach. “Every player carries his package,” Levy told his associates. “A coach has to understand his players’ souls. It’s very important to be trustworthy, that they know that your decisions are purely professional and that you support them. Maor knows that I’m not prejudiced against him, that I don’t settle accounts or go behind his back.”
Buzaglo returned this summer from an unsuccessful two-year spell with Belgian club Standard Liège and seemed to have left his problems behind, including his biggest problem – his father’s conduct. It seems that the player told his father to lower his public profile significantly. He also moved to Be’er Sheva with his family.
“This is the first time Maor is living in Israel far from his parents,” one of his teammates says. “Around town he’s treated like a king, and he’s overwhelmed by the support. He has good relations with his parents, but the distance from them has saved his career. Maor needed this distance. He knows that if he fails in Be’er Sheva, no other club will ever want to deal with him.”
Buzaglo’s new-found drive is reflected in practice sessions. Teammates say that he runs around like a youth player hoping to make the starting lineup, but can also handle disappointments. When he was left out of the starting lineup in the game against Ashdod, “we all expected to see him make angry faces at Elisha, but he surprised us all. He smiled, gave us the feeling that everything’s okay and wished us success,” says a fellow team player.
Levy, rather expectedly, says it’s all a question of the player’s frame of mind. “Maor had several difficult injuries in recent years, injuries that often prevent players from ever finding their form again,” says the coach. “He was sidelined for long periods and needed psychological strength in order to return. Maor has a huge drive to succeed; he arrives hungry for success for every game. When he came to Be’er Sheva he knew it was all up to him − he took his chance and returned to where he was four or five years ago, when everyone knew that he was the future of Israeli soccer. And he will get better still.”
On top of parting from his dominant father, Buzaglo is also less preoccupied with his look, reducing his visits to his hair-stylist.
“Maybe Maor matured a bit, and maybe he understood that what might have been right for a Tel Aviv player in the big city isn’t right for a Be’er Sheva player,” says a teammate. “Maybe someone tipped him off that Be’er Sheva fans are less fond of tattoos and extravagant hair styles.”
The player closest to Buzaglo in the Be’er Sheva dressing room is Elyaniv Barda, the star of the team and fans’ darling. In fact, Barda’s return to Be’er Sheva was one of the factors that persuaded Buzaglo to join the club. Buzaglo is well aware that Barda is the star player, but Barda, known for his modesty, doesn’t make Buzaglo feel like he’s playing second fiddle, allowing him to take free kicks and encouraging him when the going gets tough.
“They have become an amazing duo,” a teammate says, “despite their different personalities. They get along as if they’ve been playing together for years. Maor really admires Barda. He learns a lot from him, not only on the pitch. Barda tells him all the time that momentary success means nothing, and the most important thing is consistency. That he should ignore the press and work hard every day, and that after one or two exceptional seasons he will make it back into the national team and maybe even try his luck in Europe again.”
“Apart from his ability, Maor is a wonderful, positive individual in the dressing room,” Barda says. “He’s a great player who was wasted for too long. I’m glad he’s here. He’s helping us and will help us even more. I’m sure we can expect great things from him. Be’er Sheva has already profited from his being here.”
Chances are that Israeli soccer as a whole also stands to gain from Buzaglo’s reemergence as a dominant player.