Three of the 12 Israeli top-flight teams wear yellow, but while Lothar Matthäus's Maccabi Netanya FC shine at the top of the Ligat Ha'Al, the picture is far from bright for Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Beitar Jerusalem FC.
Netanya on top
All three clubs began the 2008/09 season with high hopes, but so far only Maccabi Netanya look capable of improving on last term when they finished runners-up for the second successive campaign. Matthäus's men claimed a fourth straight win with a 1-0 victory at Maccabi Tel-Aviv on 5 October; throw in an opening-day draw at Maccabi Petach-Tikva FC and unbeaten Netanya have 13 points from their first five matches. Not even a UEFA Cup first-round defeat by Bulgaria's PFC Cherno More Varna could dent the German coach's reputation. Rumour is, he is attracting attention back home, with VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach a possible suitor.
Worse for Beitar
Titleholders Beitar Jerusalem's exit from Europe – in their case, from the UEFA Champions League – brought more drastic repercussions. Their 6-2 aggregate loss to Wisla Kraków prompted a clear-out by club owner Arkady Gaydamak, who replaced coach Itzhak Shum with Reuven Atar among other high-ranking changes. Atar had caught the eye as Matthäus's predecessor, posting those back-to-back second placed finishes with Netanya. However, Atar's new side were not only starting the season on a downer; they were also in deficit, having been given a two-point penalty for the bad behaviour of supporters last term.
Early goalless draws against Bnei Sakhnin FC and Maccabi Tel-Aviv cancelled the arrears, but hardly lifted the mood. Then, the promise suggested by a 4-2 victory at Hakoah Maccabi Amidar Ramat Gan, followed by a 1-1 home draw with second-placed Maccabi Haifa FC, evaporated in the violent wake of Beitar's 1-0 defeat at Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona FC on 4 October. Fans stoned the team bus on the journey back to the capital. Depressed Beitar lie ninth in the 12-club Ligat.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv kicked off the campaign with greater unity of purpose, having appointed former Ironi Kiryat Shmona coach Ran Ben Shimon. The trainer's brief was to restore glory to the 19-times champions. The team won two and drew two of their first four games, but Ben Shimon suffered a setback when he was sent off in the second round of fixtures. His dismissal in the stalemate at Beitar prompted a five-match touchline ban, so he was watching from the stands when Maccabi lost for the first time, 1-0 at Netanya, last Sunday. Their side may occupy third position but already some Maccabi fans are questioning the coach's long-term suitability. A fortnight after Sir Paul McCartney played his first concert in Israel, two of the country's sporting 'yellow submarines' have that sinking feeling.
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