Soccer The Local Guardiola

Arik Benado completed Maccabi Haifa's U-turn on Saturday, reviving the club's mental strength.

Shlomi Barzel
Shlomi Barzel
Shlomi Barzel
Shlomi Barzel

So I could finally be convinced that the match between Maccabi Haifa and Arik Benado was indeed made in heaven, and that it signified a real change, I decided to withhold judgment until the first time Haifa found itself chasing a game. This might have been superfluous on my part, since it didn't happen in Benado's first seven games in charge - and, in fact, I could reasonably have concluded before the 3-1 win over Acre that the U-turn was complete.

Still, Reuven Atar's short tenure as Maccabi Haifa coach revealed so many obscure and idiosyncratic ills that such a complete change seemed inconceivable. But the last doubts have vanished. Arik Benado has definitely accomplished the impossible.

Those who call him a master psychologist are probably not Benado lovers, and wish to limit his contribution to the mental sphere alone. Benado might have begun with psychology but never intended to stop there. Professionally, he resurrected players who seemed completely lost in Atar's time, and built on that change to return Haifa its mental power, both as a club and a team.

In the pre-Benado era, when Haifa found itself a goal down, the players lost faith; on Saturday, the goal they conceded encouraged them to puff up their chests, go on the attack and crush their opponents, just like the Maccabi Haifa of old.

At the end of this paragraph, I will say something that might lead to an interesting debate, but might also serve as an invitation for violent or silly people to close accounts with certain individuals. I don't ask for your agreement or support, only that you take a moment to consider the similarity between the two stories, despite all the differences. I'll call it as I see it: Arik Benado might be for Maccabi Haifa everything that Pep Guardiola was for Barcelona. No, he won't transform Maccabi Haifa from an underachiever to the proud winner of the Champions League, but nonetheless, the change might be just as profound and impressive.

Kashtan at a loss

His well-known verbal avarice notwithstanding, Dror Kashtan has admitted for the second time in a month that he really doesn't know what is happening to Bnei Yehuda. He won't shout it at the top of his lungs or grant long interviews to discuss the topic, but he is aware of the problem and admits it. For Kashtan, that is quite an achievement.

If there is one thing that always characterized Kashtan's teams, it was stability. No, it wasn't always there right at the start of the season, but usually, after 10 games or so, the fingerprint of the veteran coach would already be evident.

This season, it seems that Kashtan himself is even more surprised by his charges than the club's helpless supporters. The coach meets his players almost every day - teaches, instructs, reprimands, fixes their mistakes - and then the next game comes around, and he can't find any connection between his plan and what happened on the pitch. That must be the most painful feeling for any coach.

Kashtan was honest enough to talk about this instability when Bnei Yehuda beat the two league leaders, Hapoel and Maccabi Tel Aviv. He almost prophesized the losses that immediately followed to Hapoel Haifa and Hapoel Be'er Sheva, two very anemic teams.

Some coaches consider it a compliment if someone refers to their teams as "crazy." For Kashtan, that is the greatest failure, but that is the truth: After 18 games, Bnei Yehuda is the craziest team of the league.

Benado, right, celebrates after beating Beitar, December 2012.Credit: Nir Keidar



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