On the Offensive / A New Coach at Beitar

Albeit somewhat belated, Uri Malmilian is finally the coach of Beitar Jerusalem. One could fault him for needing so much time and wonder why it took three months to work out the most fundamental aspects of soccer, but any way you slice it, they're here.

For the first time this season, Beitar Jerusalem looks like a well-trained soccer team. The squad no longer looks like it is getting by on flickers of brilliance or living in fear of a historic drubbing by the league champions but rather a team with a well-set system that moves the ball smartly, closes in on defense at the right time, fights admirably and is capable of scoring. That's enough for us.

beitar - Nir Keidar - November 29 2010
Nir Keidar

The Malmilian who was full of hysteria during Beitar's first nine games has been replaced by a coach with an entirely different set of principles. He's quiet, calm and most of all capable of finding creative, game-changing solutions.

His use of Cristian Alvarez is a case in point. The Chilean may be a great right defensive back, but Beitar could have made do with less impressive substitutes such as Lior Reuven on the wing and concentrate on acquiring someone to cover center midfield. The team has cried out too long for a player who can defend the middle of the pitch more effectively, take control of it and launch occasional attacks. Yet in its current state Beitar must focus first and foremost on not conceding goals and only afterward worry about attacking. This strategy, by the way, much more befits Malmilian the coach.

Taking seven out of a possible nine points over the last three games, Beitar earned some mental rehab. The greatest improvement has been at the coach's position, while the lineup has not changed.

Another factor helping Beitar return from the brink is its schedule. After wins over Ramat Gan and Hapoel Haifa, Beitar will host Ashkelon, travel to Hapoel Acre and come back to Jerusalem for Kiryat Shmona and Maccabi Netanya.

No one says it will be easy, but it's doable considering the recent signs of encouragement. And that's saying a lot after the team's catastrophic start to its season.

People were not expecting Malmilian to lead Beitar to a championship this season, not even to be vying near the top of the table. Rather, the bone this column and others had to pick with him was not about what place the team was in but the chaos, the easily avoidable loss of its way.

A run of three decently-played games pumps up hope that things are beginning to smooth out, but it fall short of being convincing proof that the worst is over.

It's kind of like the playing level of Aviram Baruchyan, Beitar's captain. You can jabber all you want about his latent talent, but don't rush in and say it's going to show itself today, this season or ever.