Shooting Star / Precious Few Tears

Anyone claiming that Atar deserved another chance either has vested interests or no idea of what went on behind the scenes in recent months.

There's a huge difference between the Jacob Shahar we see on TV during games, revealing a short tempered, angry, emotional individual, and the person who actually runs Maccabi Haifa and is responsible for the club's successes and failures. The Shahar behind the desk, the one who must take decisions, is a completely different person - calm, quiet and with very cold, rational reasoning, one who can take a deep breath before delivering his verdict. This is the Shahar - not the angry fan on TV - who decided to fire Reuven Atar.

One may question whether this was the most difficult decision he has made in his 20 years at the club, as Shahar declared in his statement about Atar's sacking, but it is definitely one of his more justified and rational ones. If Shahar truly believes he allowed Atar to choose the best squad possible, or, at least, agreed to all his requests (including the superfluous and cruel sacking of Giora Antman, the goalkeepers' coach ), then Shahar had no other option. Atar failed at Maccabi Haifa, both professionally and personally, and didn't seem, at any given moment, to be someone who could, or even wanted to change his ways. It's doubtful whether one could find even one player or club official who would shed tears because of the premature separation, and that in itself speaks volumes. The club happily welcomed Atar, just as it now happily bids him farewell.

The Yaniv Katan affair was merely the last straw, but reflected all of Atar's shortcomings. It presented Atar as a coach lacking self-confidence, feeling threatened by the club captain; as a capricious person who complicated matters in an issue that necessitated informing senior officials before acting, a man who undermined the club's otherwise credible spokespersons, by announcing, 24 hours after his decision, that it never happened, and, as a professional, failed to realize that sad as it may be, Katan is still Maccabi Haifa's best player. At least this season.

Shahar continued to hope against hope that the change would come, that some deus ex machina would pop up and stop the club's freefall. When he understood that Atar wouldn't bring the change, he knew that he must act. Shahar did not wait for the fans to turn against Atar, thus facilitating the move. That's not Shahar's style. He had the whole summer and nine more games to understand that Maccabi Haifa and Atar are a beautiful love story belonging to the past, but completely irrelevant to the present and future of the club.

Anyone claiming that Atar deserved another chance either has vested interests or no idea of what went on behind the scenes in recent months. Atar really wanted to succeed in the club where he made his name as a virtuoso, but made every possible mistake on the way. There was nobody who wanted to see him fail, not even Katan. Now Atar must review his own conduct, in order to learn from his mistakes, and understand how he messed up such a perfect opportunity.

In order to avoid another difficult decision, Shahar must also rethink things. How the club, considered by many the best run in Israel, suddenly found itself with a flat Israeli squad, and why it has failed for some years now to find decent foreign players who could actually make a difference. Shahar must also realize his own part in the failure. These questions are especially significant when choosing Atar's successor. Haifa's owner must decide what sort of club he is offering the new coach, and in which direction it should be guided. Precious few would refuse an offer to coach Maccabi Haifa, and even fewer could actually succeed in reviving the glory of the Atar days. His days as a player, of course, not as a coach.

Sharon Bukov