Soccer / Premier League

Hapoel Tel Aviv: A Team in Need of Some Coaching

The team’s players aren’t good enough; the best they can do is pass back to the center-half.

Ran Ben Shimon isn’t doing his job. His profession is a soccer coach, but Hapoel Tel Aviv is an uncoached soccer team. The move most characteristic of Ben Shimon’s team is this: Lucas Sasha receives the ball in the center of the pitch, looks to the right and then to the left, and passes backward to the center-half. Another move identified with Hapoel Tel Aviv this season is this: Bryan Gerzicich is in possession in midfield, he looks to the right and to the left, and then passes back to the center-half. Yet another typical move: Orel Dgani receives the ball on the right wing, looks to the right and to the left, and then passes back to the nearest midfielder.

You get the drift: Ben Shimon’s Hapoel Tel Aviv will be remembered for its ability to stand at one point of the pitch, look around, and pass backwards to a free player. By the end of the half the team can be pleased with its possession percentage.

Even before the lack of a game plan, Hapoel Tel Aviv lacks quality. Apart from Gil Vermouth (often brilliant) and Itay Shechter (a waste of money), one must manage with Sasha, Gerzicich and Dgani. The latter, for example, is a right-back, who by definition should know how to defend and support offensive moves. In the rival’s half a right-back is expected to be capable of putting in a cross. Dgani attempted three of these during the 2-4 loss to Maccabi Haifa, in the 7th, 66th and 69th minutes. He failed three times. When your right-back can’t cross, the team is in trouble.

Another problem is when your left-back doesn’t have a left foot. When Lior Levy tries to support the attack, the defender knows that he can’t run down the line and put in a cross, but only cut into the middle and get into trouble, which is exactly what Levy often does. When both wings are thus limited to begin with, Hapoel Tel Aviv must try to score through the middle; but when you have Sasha and Gerzicich in the middle, two players who could have buckets of grey paint fall on them and one wouldn’t notice the difference, the team struggles.

In fact the two most important offensive options of a soccer team − playing through the wings or through the middle − are recipes for failure in the present Hapoel Tel Aviv. Ben Shimon tried to spice up these shortcomings with a certain amount of talent − Vermouth, Roei Gordana and Omer Damari − but these players only lend to the allusion that "it can be done." Still, the truth is that it can’t be done. As simple as that.

After the loss, Ben Shimon told the media that “we didn’t play wisely.” Maybe he knows how wisdom could help Dgani put in a cross, or help Levy develop his left leg. It seems that he, too, knows that this has nothing to do with wisdom. Hapoel Tel Aviv is simply a limited, uncoached team. Therefore, when Maccabi Haifa’s coach Arik Benado says “to come back from behind, here in the Bloomfield Stadium, is not an easy matter,” he best remember that it's also not such a big deal.

Nir Keidar