A Lack of Strategy

If the prime minister once said you don’t have to believe every word he says, then what do we have to complain about a soccer coach?

Eli Guttman, the head coach of Israel’s national soccer team, was never perceived as a particularly trustworthy person. I didn’t get too angry about it. Neither did it bother me too much. If the prime minister once said you don’t have to believe every word he says, then what do we have to complain about a soccer coach?

The problem with Guttman has to do with two central points: When he talks about his team having a strategy, is he lying to everybody, and is he in an even more difficult situation in which he is lying to himself?

Friday’s draw with Azerbaijan was just the first game, and there’s no point in talking about failure, especially when the realistic examination of Israel’s chances in a group with Russia and Portugal didn’t leave us much to dream about advancing to Rio 2014. The starting 11 that Guttman selected against Azerbaijan made sense, as was the general roster and the substitutions.

Guttman is no better or worse than his predecessors in this regard. He can be forgiven for his pompous speeches, but he should be held accountable for the pretension he set for himself and his squad its strategy.

Guttman’s satisfaction with his players’ performance is logical. As someone who often watches national team practices, I allow myself to attest that the players carried out without fault what the coach asked of them and practiced with them. It’s about standing in certain places, running a play here and there to go on attack, getting organized for static situations and more. And all this is light years away from being called strategy.

Israel, in the Guttman era as well, is still in the preliminary stage among national soccer teams, in which the coach is no more than an elementary school sports teacher who gives the students a ball and tells them to play. If that’s strategy, than we are a powerhouse.

That is how the national team looked in Azerbaijan. Its best and worst moments were no more than coincidental. The brilliant play of one or another, the fatal mistake of one or another.

We don’t succeed as a national squad and we don’t fail as a national squad, simply because there is no national squad. When there will be a strategy, there will be a national team.

Guttman is the first coach in a long time for whom no one has set an acid test based on the result advancing to the World Cup as the only one to assess his success. This time even Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon is not setting a trap for his coach with a stifling statement. Guttman thus has a fair amount of maneuvering space that is rarely seen. He also has an enormous amount of obligation to be honest with us, with his playes and with himself regarding the only question on the table: Is he capable of instilling strategy into the team?

Nir Keidar