Since the Israeli Premier League was inaugurated in 1999/2000, Maccabi Haifa FC have only once had to go more than a season without the title – 2012/13 will be about restoring them at the top of the pile.
They go into the campaign with a new man at the helm following Elisha Levi's departure to Hapoel Beer Sheva FC, but Reuven Atar needs no introduction. As a player, he won five championships and two State Cups in ten years during two spells at the club spanning 1986 and 2002. Even now, many Maccabi Haifa supporters struggle to imagine the No10 shirt without Atar's curly locks protruding over the top.
There are times that the huge support I get is even a little embarrassing," admitted Atar, from beneath that familiar hair. "It is very exciting [to be back]." Club owner Jacob Shahar revealed that he was always going to return – it was a question of when, not if. "I wanted to bring Atar a year ago, but after Elisha's championship I decided to let him stay. Atar understood and accepted that and that's why he is here this year, where he should be."
Atar's task will be to find a good balance between the proven quality of players like Yaniv Katan and Nir Davidovitch, and a cabal of talented youngsters including his son Roi, 18, who broke into the side last season as they finished fifth. Hen Ezra has followed the coach from Maccabi Netanya FC while Dino Ndlovu has arrived from Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC.
Hapoel Kiryat Shmona FC may have their work cut out as they bid to emulate Beitar Jerusalem FC's feat of back-to-back championships set in 2007/08 and 2008/09; Maccabi Haifa's thirst for success is as insatiable as ever. Captain Katan, a team-mate of Atar a decade ago, best sums up the mood on Mount Carmel, saying: "
The only thing we think about is how to bring Maccabi Haifa back to its natural place."
The Israeli Premier League kicks off on Saturday
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