The Way Forward / Guttman's Strange Grip on Reality

This World Cup qualification campaign is already closed, locked and bolted. Believe it or not, this could be the best thing that's happened to us.

Soon after the draw in Azerbaijan, Yossi Benayoun said in an interview: "If we lose to Russia at Ramat Gan it'll be a disaster." His use of the word "disaster" could have been due to his anger at being introduced as only the third substitute, or it could be that in a qualification group featuring Russia and Portugal, dropping two points to the Azerbaijanis and losing to Russia at home would effectively end the campaign.

In any event, at the press conference before the Russia game, he avoided repeating that declaration when asked about it: not the bit about the team's chances against Fabio Capello's wonderful players, just the word "disaster." It's not a matter of life and death, he explained.

This World Cup qualification campaign is already closed, locked and bolted. Believe it or not, this could be the best thing that's happened to us. No more calculations, no more dreams, no more thoughts about this or that miss that cost us dearly.

The national team and its coach have been exposed in all their nakedness, at Israeli soccer's lowest point for a long time. Those who want to vent their anger can holler "disgrace," "humiliation" or a heap of expletives. Maybe they're right, but at this point that doesn't matter.

Now that he's free of pressure to finish even in third place, national team coach Eli Guttman must ask himself whether he's capable of saving the squad from clinical death. Guttman must be honest with himself, with the fans, with his players and with his employers about the chances that something of his vision when he took the job can exist.

If he seeks refuge, that will be a disaster. If he decides he has that so-elusive ability and he's ready to embark on a mission that will almost certainly fail, then Wednesday night's rout was a blessing. The reality was for all to see at Ramat Gan Stadium. There's no point in trying to escape this reality, as we have up to now. The situation is hopeless.

When Guttman was appointed I wrote fervently that he deserved it, but I suspected he wasn't suitable for this type of coaching - the same thing I thought about a previous coach, Dror Kashtan. But Guttman's case is more worrying. He refers too often to his players as "the team," which to my mind shows that he doesn't understand the difference between coaching a club team and a national team - between a successful team coach and a suitable national team coach.

A coach the caliber of Fabio Capello can turn players into a team in terms of coordination, moving the ball, synchronizing players, blind trust and team selection. Guttman's grip on reality threatens to turn the national team into the most eclectic and bizarre collection of players in Europe. He's already making us miss that embarrassment Louis Fernandez.

The last national team coach to raise Israel's game was Avram Grant. But even he didn't get Israel into a major tournament (goal difference denied that ). But we had a reasonable national team then. A few interested parties who know little about soccer thought we could do better. I dared to predict even then that we wouldn't be back to that level for another 20 years. Six years have elapsed since then - maybe it's time to update that prediction to 30 years.

Consider well, Mr. Guttman, whether you're the right man with the suitable player base to change this horror scenario. The future looks frightening. If not, give someone else the chance right now. As of Tuesday night, time is a resource we have plenty of.

Nir Keidar