From Zero to Genius in 90 Minutes

The traditional derision in Israel of foreign coaches has turned into admiration; both emotions are born of the same inferiority complex.

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It’s remarkable to watch Maccabi Tel Aviv’s soccer team and think about how far it’s come within a year - from the constant derision of foreign coaches to the current admiration for coach Paolo Sousa for his brilliant moves.

It’s been all of one year, including a league championship, and the rain has turned to sun, the curse into a blessing. And like every far-reaching change, the sources of the derision and the admiration are entwined, born of an inferiority complex about our players.

When someone doesn’t believe he’s good at something – and who really believes we are good at soccer? – he invests a lot of energy in hiding reality. In this case, a foreign coach becomes a scary figure because he’s not a part of the cover-up operation, and he could blow our cover. It’s the reason that every time someone came here from abroad, he gets cursed by so-called professionals, who feared their disgrace would be revealed. The familiar prediction that a coach would not survive to the holidays was basically a wish because if he makes it through the holidays, my job will be in danger.

The other aspect of the inferiority complex expresses itself in admiration. The moment the foreigner succeeds the test period, even winning a championship, he is treated in totally the opposite manner because once the scary part goes away all that’s left is a great person. A feeling of gratefulness fills the Israeli, and he feels the need to praise the other, who kept him alive even though he could have embarrassed him.

Now the idealization stage sets in; every move, like putting Gal Alberman and Nikola Mitrovic in the back midfield turns into a brilliant tactic; freeing up Maharan Radi and Eran Zahavi on the offense becomes an example of thinking outside the box; every victory against an impotent opponent is a complete display of the team’s talent.

Indeed, sometimes xenophobia and self-depreciation are basically the same thing.

Sousa: Once he's no longer scary, he's just great. Credit: Sharon Bukov

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