Israel May Not Make It to World Cup, but Give the National Coach Some Credit

Elli Guttman managed to build an impressive team, and his accomplishments are nothing to scoff at, even if ultimately they did little to help Guttman achieve his goal: a first major tournament in decades.

Elad Lipshitz
Elad Lipshitz

Eli Guttman, the coach of Israel's national soccer coach, is probably frustrated after the 2-0 victory in Northern Ireland. Coupled with the 3-3 draw against Portugal, Guttman knows he managed two excellent results within a week.

But he's probably still angry with himself, haunted by thoughts of what could have been: a better substitution against Portugal last Friday, higher energy in the opening game against Azerbaijan.

Guttman would do anything to get these lost points back. They were already in the bag.

Yet Guttman deserves a greater vote of confidence than he's getting these days. His team probably won't make it to the World Cup next year, and probably justly so, but Guttman is doing his job. During his term he reinvented Shiran Yeini as an efficient starter, found a way to make Eden Ben Basat actually contribute to the team and managed to stabilize the back four. This was achieved by hard work, deep analysis and painful hindsight.

These accomplishments are nothing to scoff at, even if ultimately they did little to help Guttman achieve his goal: the first major tournament in decades.

And this is probably what's eating away at him: Guttman managed to build a team from a seemingly unconnected group of players who at first appeared unable to work in unison. He then weaned the spoiled squad from its dependence on Yossi Benayoun. These are two important steps that changed the team completely.

The result was that the apathetic Israeli public began to take an interest in and become emotionally involved with the national team. Israelis are already asking about the next game: when, against whom? This is no mean achievement.

Guttman knows that he was that close to a real, tangible achievement. Many pundits understand the change he has ushered in, but the group table is unforgiving. To make it to Rio, the national team can't lose in Russia or Portugal, two very improbable scenarios. Therefore, at this stage, only those who seek to understand Guttman's success can actually discern it – those who have patience. He deserves more than that.

And here's the rub: The national team hasn't yet reached the stage where those who don't believe in Guttman listen to him. He still has to ask for patience, credit, time. He didn't succeed in silencing the critics, or making anyone eat their words. And that is unfortunate because he deserves the satisfaction of being able to do just that. Guttman truly earned the right not to speak in terms of patience. His soccer deserved to produce a clear achievement that would make that plea unnecessary.

National team coach Eli Guttman Credit: Nir Keidar

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