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So What’s Missing From Eli Guttman’s Report?

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For weeks now everyone was awaiting national coach Eli Guttman’s report on his failed campaign to reach the World Cup in Brazil. When it was finally submitted to Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon in their meeting last week, it took Luzon less than five minutes to read it. He expected a probing, insightful report, but received a mere three pages of diplomatically worded observations.

Guttman refrained from mentioning players by name, and conveniently ignored his words to the media following the loss to Russia in St. Petersburg, when he said “there are things that Avi Luzon isn’t aware of concerning the national team. I’ll tell him everything in the concluding report.” Still, Guttman’s report failed to mention players who preferred to shirk the national team’s games, claiming injuries. He did, indeed, blame himself for tactics that didn’t succeed, but preferred to completely ignore the true problems and defend his players.

A source close to Guttman explained the logic: “How could he possibly criticize players who were weak during the qualifiers, or his disappointment that some of them practically didn’t show up to the important games, and then call them up again for the next tournament and trust them with leading the team? Guttman did his best not to offend anyone. As far as he’s concerned he filed a report that won’t anger anyone.”

It really doesn’t matter if the report contained three pages or 50. Luzon knows exactly what Guttman’s mistakes were; the failure is out there for all to see. A long, private conversation between the two is much more valuable than a heap of pages. “Luzon doesn’t need these pages to know where Guttman went wrong,” IFA sources told Haaretz. “He could have written the report himself. The conversation between the two and their future conversation as part of the search committee for the next coach will determine who will coach the national team in the next tournament.”

Still, the same source added: “Guttman would have done himself a favor if he had submitted a more detailed report. A 10-page report would have been more apt, at least as far as his public image is concerned.” Guttman promised to change, saying that he learned from his mistakes, and vowed not to bow to media pressure in his professional decisions. We will just have to wait and see if he is true to his word.

A limited pool of candidates

The appointment of the next national coach raises one of the most intriguing questions concerning Israeli soccer: How come there aren’t enough coaches whose records would make them legitimate candidates?

While many players ply their trade in European leagues every season, Israeli coaches apart from Avram Grant and Guy Luzon have, at best, spent a short time coaching in Cyprus and enhancing their income before returning home. Nir Klinger, Eli Guttman, Yossi Mizrahi and Ran Ben Shimon have all eagerly accepted offers to return to the Israeli league. Are the media partially responsible that only two names, Grant and Guttman, are being mentioned as worthy candidates?

There are several reasons for this. Guttman is naturally a candidate for another term. Grant’s record and stature are solid arguments for his candidacy. Until a decade ago there were several local coaches who were head and shoulders above the rest, such as Shlomo Scharf, Giora Spiegel, Dror Kashtan and Eli Cohen – coaches who succeeded in the larger clubs, won trophies and were considered top drawer.

“We once had worthy coaches who were above the league, coaches that each and every one of them was considered an excellent choice for the national team,” one of the IFA decision makers told Haaretz. “We could have chosen any one of them and it wouldn’t have made such a big difference. These were coaches who spent years at the helm of large clubs, with long periods of success that proved their worth. They all had strong personalities, stature, charisma and professional knowledge. What do we have at present? A coach who succeeded one season but then crashed, or a coach expected to be the next big thing, but who failed miserably. There are coaches who succeeded for a very short time, and the common denominator is that they all caved in to pressure. If we consider today’s coaches, none of them are reminiscent of the coaches of 10-15 years ago. They are seasonal figures. They come, succeed for a short while, and then disappear.”

Until several years ago Roni Levy was considered a future national team coach. He proved his talent at Maccabi Haifa, but his spells at Maccabi Petah Tikva, Beitar Jerusalem, Romania and Cyprus damaged his reputation. Levy’s poor personal relations, his repeated conflicts with team stars, eroded his standing as a clear choice for the post.

Ran Ben Shimon was also seen as a worthy candidate, due to his intelligence, charisma and undoubted professional attributes. But then came the swift sacking from Maccabi Tel Aviv and his unimpressive tenure at Hapoel Tel Aviv. Shlomo Scharf, past coach and present TV commentator, tried to add Klinger to the list, but the latter likewise couldn’t maintain his standing as a top coach. Furthermore, Klinger’s image is tainted since his involvement in several embarrassing scenes in league games.

And why isn’t Elisha Levy considered a candidate? After doing well with smaller clubs, he was successful with Maccabi Haifa and is currently leading Hapoel Be’er Sheva to its best season in a decade, but still he isn’t mentioned as a worthy contender.

“I respect Eli Guttman, but the fact that I’m not mentioned as a candidate is unprofessional and improper,” Levy recently told his friends. “I’ve done a thing or two in Israeli soccer, and I find it surprising that my name is omitted. It’s unfortunate my work isn’t being appreciated, but I’m already used to being underrated. When I was appointed Maccabi Haifa coach the media said the club was too big for me, and that I would be sacked soon enough. Still, I led the club to one of its best eras, including championships and the Champions League. What more do I have to do to be considered a candidate?”

Israel's coach Eli Guttman gestures as he gives instructions to his players during their 2014 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Portugal at Alvalade stadium in Lisbon October 11, 2013. Credit: Reuters

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