Hapoel Haifa FC's 3-1 victory over Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC on Saturday was the promoted side's third in four matches, as they continue to impress on their return to the Israeli top division.
Hapoel, as they prefer to be called, spent the last five years in the second tier, but are once more stepping out of the shadows of city rivals Maccabi. While the green half of Haifa is testing itself against Europe's finest in the UEFA Champions League, the red half is focused on justifying its place among Israel's élite, with a win against Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC further underlining their credentials.
A successful stint under current Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC coach Eli Gutman, which saw the Haifaites win the title in 1998/99, ended in disastrous circumstances. The death of former owner Robi Shapira in 2001 left the club in financial turmoil, with United States-based businessman Yoav Katz's takeover rescuing Hapoel from administration The former Haifa basketball player – who manages the club from the US on a shoestring budget – is honouring his predecessor by relying on homegrown talent.
Third time lucky
At 36, Hapoel's Shlomi Dora is the youngest manager in the top flight, having been handed the reins three years ago after leading the club's youth team to the title. In his first two campaigns in charge, Dora guided Hapoel to third in the second tier, missing out on promotion in the closing stages of the season. However, eight graduates of his title-winning youth side helped them win elevation to the Ligat Ha'Al as champions last season.
Haifa's general manager Ephraim Gabai, who has been at the club since the 1980s as player and a member of the backroom staff, said of the current transformation: "This is Robi Shapira's grand dream. This is how he saw this club in his vision – producing young players and coaches to meet its own needs." Oshri Roash, Ran Abukarat, Oded Elkayam, Hisham Kiwan, Gal Arel, Hanan Maman and even Dora's younger brother Yossi are all key members of Hapoel's side this season.
Young and hungry
The coach described the victory over Tel-Aviv as "one of the best displays in the clubs' history", adding: "We have a talented group of young players. Our aim is to become an established top-flight club whilst keeping our feet firmly on the ground". Team captain Eyal Tartazki, the sole survivor of the championship-winning team, concurred. "Those who have been watching us all season, know that we are a young, strong and very hungry side."
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