Uri Misgav / Hapoel Tel Aviv - Once Feared, Now Jeered

The team's recent poor showing against Maccabi Haifa shows what a colossal failure Yossi Abukasis' tenure as head coach has been.

Many things can be said about Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer fans, but you can't accuse them of not understanding the game. The entire country is finally grasping what fans in the stands of Bloomfield Stadium have understood and said out loud for weeks: Yossi Abukasis' tenure as the team's head coach has been a colossal failure.

Maccabi Haifa shut out Hapoel Tel Aviv, surging into second place with the 3-0 victory. After 20 games, the two teams are even on points, but Haifa has a better goal difference, 14 versus 10.

Hapoel Tel Aviv lacks a game plan for its offense, and after a few minutes of Sunday night's game at Kiryat Eliezer, it became clear the team lacks basic defense as well. None of its formations is working. The midfielders, which generally bear the coach's fingerprints more than other parts of the team, are an ongoing catastrophe. On Sunday night, Abukasis chose to keep the team's two most talented midfielders on the bench. By the time he remembered them, the game was already over.

That happened after Abukasis decided to add gimmicks to his weak professional repertoire: He switched goalies and played three defenders, to name just two examples. In other words, he decided to address not having a game plan not by creating a game plan, but by going wild.

And his chaos theory only led to further humiliation. Because there were so many defenders out on the pitch, rival defender Dekel Keinan of Maccabi Haifa was able to score a pair of easy first-half goals and turned what should have been a legitimate match between two of the league's top teams into garbage time.

In Israel, the subject of deterrent power has again been making headlines. Hapoel Tel Aviv under Abukasis has conceived the opposite notion: the lack of deterrent power. A team whose rivals once feared it and hated playing it has turned into one of the easiest opponents in the Premier League. For more than three years Maccabi Haifa had been especially tortured in face-offs with Hapoel Tel Aviv. Haifa endured losses at home, thrashings away and continuous failures in finals.

That is, until Arik Benado showed up.

Benado's success story with the team he played for professionally is the material soccer legends are made of. He not only transformed Maccabi Haifa's record since taking the helm, he also established a sense of calm, order and confidence in the team. Of course, each of these things feeds the other. But Benado has earned the right to hold his head up high. It's clear the team is headed toward a neck-and-neck race for the championship – against Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Hapoel Tel Aviv, on the other hand, won't be there. Over the last several weeks it has played against teams with real coaches, like Dror Kashtan, Eli Cohen and Benado, and the results were no surprise. Abukasis' team runs around the pitch with well-groomed beards, colorful shoes and endless gestures for the referees.

What they lack is athletic discipline and teamwork. Hapoel players commit way too many ugly fouls, collect way too penalty cards, dribble the ball senselessly and rarely pass. That's how a team without an effective coach plays. If Hapoel Tel Aviv wants to stay in the game, they will have to get a more effective coach, either in this season or the next.

Sharon Bukov