Free Kick

When Maccabi Haifa Stops Giving the Others the Lead

Once again, the Greens are digging themselves out of a hole. Only this time it’s not as deep

This is the second straight season that Maccabi Haifa has given the league a head start. Too bad. The team has a lot of interesting things to offer, as its latest string of four consecutive victories demonstrates.

On the other hand, there are some signs of improvement with this condition. Haifa got back on its feet relatively sooner this season, and overcame an anemic start without firing a beloved former star turned coach. There is also no dismissing the talent in the current roster.

The Greens beat Bnei Yehuda 2-0 Saturday night with one goal that should have been called back for offside and another from a dubious penalty. That did not stop them officially celebrating in front of a silenced crowd at Bloomfield Stadium.

It wasn’t the first time this season Haifa has enjoyed such pleasure. Two weeks ago the team humiliated Hapoel Tel Aviv, the team that robbed Haifa of its championship in the infamous point-deduction season a few years ago, in the 94th minute.

The circle was completed Saturday night with a road win at the very scene of the crime − was it not Bnei Yehuda that denied Haifa the championship when they didn’t allow the favorites to defeat them that same unforgettable season?

So where is Maccabi Haifa headed now? It's hard to know. The league is competitive this season, but does not have a strong collection of teams. Haifa is deep but a little dull. Its arsenal is limited.

Two players stuck out Saturday night. Spanish midfielder Ruben Rayos is starting to remind spectators of days gone by, a time when quality foreigners made a significant impact on the game. Haifa once excelled in this category.

And Yaniv Katan is turning into a particularly interesting player. Katan also exemplifies the kind of player whose role on the field was unclear for many years. Even in the good seasons, it was hard to pigeonhole him. His current position is definitely a direct consequence of the coach's game plan. It’s not only about the captain's mental and leadership aspects: At his best moments, like the move that led to him scoring the first goal on Saturday, Katan is capable of turning one touch into a tactical lesson.

Bnei Yehuda, for its part, did not play especially poorly, and not for the first time this season. It pains the heart. One gets the impression that the team is bearing some unknown curse which has plagued Bnei Yehuda for years, without any clear correlation to what’s happening on the pitch and in the league standings.

Nir Keidar