The Prince and the Pauper Mentality

Save for the capricious Maccabi Netanya, the other 13 teams in the Premier League have played fairly stable soccer during the first six games of the schedule.

Save for the capricious Maccabi Netanya, the other 13 teams in the Premier League have played fairly stable soccer during the first six games of the schedule. This consistency allows for certain expectations about them during the remainder of the season.

Hapoel Haifa, Bnei Sakhnin and Beitar Jerusalem, for example, will have to amaze in order to avoid getting into a relegation battle. Maccabi Haifa, in contrast, will need either a miracle or a monumental collapse by F.C. Ashdod and Maccabi Tel Aviv to end up in a real fight for the championship.

The story of Maccabi Tel Aviv so far has been quite simple. It's not about ingenuity, and it's not about a cunning acquisition or even deep pockets that give the team total freedom to dominate. The excitement about Maccabi is first and foremost relative to the criminal negligence which characterized the team in recent years.

Jordi Cruyff is not a prophet. Oscar Garcia is not the messiah. They are, after all, reasonably good professionals who did a good job of analysis at their new place of work. For example, they recognized the dedication and talent of Gal Alberman. It's how they understood in the same way the value of Sheran Yeini, the best all-around player in the Premier League. It's how they knew not to be pressured by complaints about the apathy of Gonzalo Garcia.

The coaching staff of Maccabi Tel Aviv this season has patience as well as a sense of proportion. They don't allow euphoria to take control of the club after four consecutive victories. Neither do they allow for descending into the abyss after a loss to Hapoel Be'er Sheva.

They are in the race for the long term, and, along the way, they clearly know there will be ups and downs. It's about mentality and professionalism.

Another item to their credit is their ability to convince the players who are on the roster that there's room for anyone who is good and gives 100 percent. True, there are a number of players whose spot on the first team is almost guaranteed, and rightfully so, but there is another space to generate healthy competition that keeps the players hungry.

This is no coach who is merely in charge of doling out the jobs, rather a professional who builds the starting 11 in accordance with the upcoming opponent and consistent with what he saw of his charges during the course of the week. Players like Moanes Dabour, Dor Micha, Yagil Biton, Roberto Colautti, Rafi Dahan and Robert Earnshaw will attest to this matter. As trivial as it sounds, it's good news for Maccabi Tel Aviv.

At Ashdod, at least since Yossi Mizrahi took the reins, it's a well-known matter. So, Ashdod's team has been assembled in the right way - it's balanced, organized tactically and plays well for the entire time. The biggest change that needs to happen in Ashdod is on the mental level.

Ashdod needs a vision that will force this team, which is so talented, to strive for more. And it just happens to be this angle that turns out to be Yossi Mizrahi's weak point.

Perhaps he doesn't believe that his team can fly high. He is probably scared that he will be judged for declarations that are hard to meet. His excessive caution is not considerable one way or another on the pitch, but it does affect all those he sends onto the field.

F.C. Ashdod was not inferior in any regard to Maccabi Tel Aviv on Saturday night when it lost 2-1, save for the will to win and the faith required to make it happen. Ashdod lost mostly because its coach continued to send a message to his players that he does not really believe in their high place in the standings, in the perfect opening to the season and in the possibility of betting on them.

It's too bad. He - and the players, too - deserve better.

Sharon Bukov