Before the start of the season in Israel, all the focus was on big spenders Beitar Jerusalem FC and Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC, but with their rivals crashing and burning, Maccabi Haifa FC have quietly edged into the spotlight.
Both Beitar coach Itzhak Shum and new Maccabi Tel-Aviv boss Ran Ben Shimon were set substantial targets by the clubs' owners in the summer. Charged with leading the champions to the UEFA Champions League group stage, Shum fell at the first hurdle with a 6-2 aggregate defeat against Wisła Kraków in the second qualifying round prompting his departure before a single ball had been kicked in the domestic season.
Ben Shimon's exit at Maccabi Tel-Aviv was not as fast. A host of summer signings promised much but delivered little, and he was duly replaced by Avi Nimni, the former attacking midfielder who was just settling in to his new role as general manager of the club he served for the best years of his professional career. They lie eighth in the 12-team table.
Meanwhile, 100km north of Tel-Aviv, Haifa owner Ya'acov Shahar is gaining maximum reward for his minimum investment policy. Unmoved by the big plans afoot further south during the summer, Haifa hired Elisha Levy as their coach, who had been successful with a tiny budget at Bnei Sakhnin FC. He brought with him Colombian midfielder John Jairo Culma and Ukraine-born defender Leonid Krupnik.
Breath of fresh air
However, it was some of the established Haifa players and talented youngsters who benefited most from Elisha Levy's appointment, seeing it as a breath of fresh air following some turbulent times under his predecessor Roni Levy. Beaten only once in 13 games this year – against Lothar Matthäus's Maccabi Netanya FC, who are second – they top the table with 28 points.
Beitar visit Maccabi Haifa next week and could yet drift even further off the pace with the club's owner Arkady Gaydamak having a tough time financially. Gaydamak's mood has been further hit after receiving just 7,000 votes – a share of three per cent – after standing to become mayor of Jerusalem.
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