Soccer / New Coach Preaches Positive Thinking

Elisha Levy says he's 'come to restore Hapoel Be'er Sheva to its former glory.'

The pattern has repeated itself several times in recent years. A new coach arrives at Hapoel Be'er Sheva, receives a warm welcome from the fans and is feted by the local media. He declares that he's come for the long haul and has no intention of jumping ship the moment things get tough. Usually, it all ends in heartbreak for everyone concerned.

And still, if there is any reason for optimism this season, it lies in the identity of the new man at the helm of Hapoel Be'er Sheva - Elisha Levy. While the much-traveled coach is not blessed with the ability to predict how his time at Vasermil Stadium will end, there's one thing he claims to be sure of: "The fans here will not have to suffer another season of their team fighting for Premier League survival."

Levy, who jetted out with the rest of the team earlier this week to a training camp in Poland, sounds pleased with his first two months in the capital of the Negev. "In the meantime," he told Haaretz, "I have everything I need to succeed here. The set-up is that of a major club. It's true that the team hasn't won a title or a cup for a long time and has been engaged in relegation battles instead of championship battles, but in terms of potential, there's a huge wealth of talent here. I came here to build something special, something that will last."

Nonetheless, Levy insists that his team is not ready to fight for the silver cup. "It wouldn't be responsible of me to build up expectations," he says. "I came here to improve the team and fulfill the potential. I didn't rush into buying new players and I took a long, hard look at the squad I inherited. Every single player was looked at in detail. Over the years, some players got the impression that Hapoel Be'er Sheva is a cash cow. I decided to go with players who have the right character. Every player I brought in has shown commitment to the club and has promised to stay for several seasons. I don't want players who are here to make a fast buck in one season and then leave. Most of the players I signed will live right here in Be'er Sheva, which is very important to me. It creates an extra link to the club."

Your approach is very patient. Should you not be building a team that can win the championship?

"It doesn't matter how long I stay, this is the way I do things. The decisions that I make are for the good of the club - even if they are less beneficial for me in the short term. A coach's job is to serve the interests of the team that employs him, even if someone else gets the benefit. I came to Be'er Sheva to do something that will restore the team to its former glory. I don't just talk, I deliver."

Was the move from Maccabi Haifa to Hapoel Be'er Sheva a tough one?

"Both clubs offer the best conditions available. The difference is that Haifa is a big club, while Be'er Sheva is a club with the potential to be huge."

You've made some radical changes to the squad. Eight players have left and many more have joined.

"I never rush things and I don't time myself. We signed players when I was ready to sign them, without heeding the pressure of the fans or the media. You need a lot of patience to get the new squad to play as a team. It won't happen overnight. We will only succeed with patience and if the owner, the coach, the players and the fans are on the same page. I am keeping my feet very much on the ground. I have brought a lot of positive energy to the team and I believe in my players."

What happens if the fans lose patience?

"I won't let the fans pressure me. We have a superb fan base and I was greeted here with open arms. People have got the wrong impression about Hapoel Be'er Sheva's fans. Once they see that we have a system, that we're playing good soccer, that the players are willing to fight for the club, they will back us. We need to change the unfair image that the fans have been stuck with. There are very few teams who take as many fans to away games as Hapoel does. Having said that, the fans need to understand that I am not a magician. We are planning for the long term and we know it will take time. Even if the fans get upset, we'll try to channel their anger into more positive things. We will take the criticism on board and we will improve."

While many sports commentators believe that the level of the Premier League this season will be one of the poorest in recent years, Levy is convinced that it will produce some excellent soccer.

"It's true that there are not enough world-class players in Israel, but I still think we'll have an excellent league," he said. "The Israeli league is still much better than many of the other leagues in Europe. The fans will return to the stadiums. After the European Championship and the summer break, people will be hungry for soccer and I have a feeling that the stadiums will be full again this season. I just hope that no one tries to ruin the positive energy. People keep on putting the Israeli league down and that is not helping boost attendance. My message to everyone is simple: Let's keep it positive."