The State of Israeli Football
May 22, 2019
Most Championships: Maccabi Tel Aviv, 22
Last 5 Winners: Maccabi Tel Aviv (18/19, 14/15), Hapoel Beer Sheva (17/18, 16/17, 15/16)
UEFA Ranking: 27th
Highest Ranked Club: Maccabi Tel Aviv, 90th
Since the Europa League was reformed Hapoel Kiryat Shmona, Hapoel Beer Sheva, Macacbi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv, and Maccabi Haifa have all made the EL group stage while Macacbi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv, and Maccabi Haifa have all made the Champions League group stage too. Is it fair to say Israel has been performing above expectations in European football in recent times?
I believe that Israeli football is performing roughly where it should be. This past season Israel didn’t have any representative playing in European football and that hurt the game in the country. Playing in European competition creates a huge buzz throughout Israel and also adds spice to the domestic league which we unfortunately didn’t have this year.
Maccabi Tel Aviv came within 12 minutes of advancing to the Europa League group stages and just missed out after playing in Europe the last few seasons. Beer Sheva had hosted some great teams like Inter Milan and Southampton in the recent years and they also came up short. So all in all I believe that we are where we should be, some years are better than others and vice versa.
Is there a lot of money in Israeli football?
Unfortunately there isn’t much money in Israeli football. TV contracts are a big part of the teams budget as is the lottery and for some teams ticket sales make a big impact but for others it’s very limited. The government does not heavily invest in sports and infrastructure so that hurts the game as well.
The key is having an owner who can afford to spend money and that is the case for very few teams. Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Beer Sheva and now Beitar Jerusalem are the clubs with have the funds while others scrape by from year to year.
Do most of the country get behind the Israeli sides playing in Europe or is there a lot of tribalism still apparent?
Fans support their team and their team only. You won’t see a Maccabi Tel Aviv fan supporting Maccabi Haifa or Hapoel Beer Sheva and so they are in an island of their own. Very few fans will cross the lines and if they do they would go and support an Inter Milan should they be a fan of theirs against Beer Sheva.
What would be seen as a successful year in Europe for Israeli fans?
Advancing to the group stages of either the Europa League or Champions League for the big teams and if a small team sneaks into the qualifiers then to perform admirably and hope that an attractive team comes to Israel. How many times have an Israeli team advanced out of the group stages? Very, very few and if they do they haven’t passed the Round of 16 in the Europa League. In 2016 Beer Sheva fell to Besiktas in the EL Rd of 32, Haifa were eliminated in 2007 by Espanyol in the UEFA Cup Rd of 16 and Maccabi Tel Aviv lost to Basel in 2016 in the EL Rd of 32.
Is a Champions League / Europa League game involving an Israeli side watched by most of the nation?
Champions League more so primarily because of the opposing team. When the likes of Juventus, Bayern Munich or Chelsea play against an Israeli side fans will watch as they do regularly. CL is huge in Israel and watch parties for Barcelona or Real Madrid occur throughout the nation. The ratings will be a bit higher if an Israeli team is playing but again it’s not the be all and end all.
How is the EL viewed in general by Israeli football fans?
The EL is looked at like the poor sister. Sure this year’s final will be interesting and well watched because there are two English Premier League teams involved but in general it’s the CL or bust for the Israeli football fan. The TV channel Sport 5 own the rights to the CL and they really do an excellent job promoting the games in general and invest a lot in pre-match content.
How do you think the Europa League 2 will affect Israeli EL performances and what has been the reaction to the formation of the competition in Israel?
The Israeli clubs aren’t happy as to how UEFA wants to restrict the CL and have petitioned against the changes that are going to take place. However, teams do want to participate in European football as that creates more interest for their fan base and potentially more revenue for the club. But and this is a big but, if the teams don’t have the funds and a squad that has enough quality they won’t be bale to compete properly in both a continental competition and the domestic league. The other issue with EL2 is the caliber of team that will play the Israeli clubs. The lower level the team the less fans will be interested in the actual games regardless. Fans want to see the best teams that they can and my fear is that EL2 will end up being a huge bust.
What would you like to see UEFA do to level the playing field more for small European sides?
I don’t think there is much they can do. The facts are the facts and some countries and teams are richer than others. I think the current format works except that when an Israeli team does make it to the CL they have been totally outclassed on the pitch and the competition over the past decade hasn’t been close. It’s not just the Israeli teams but teams from smaller countries making the group stages for the bigger teams a waste. However, I would keep as is as it is important that these teams get the top level exposure and it will help the team financially in many ways. It also allows the teams to dream big and perhaps grow the game in their country
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Author: Tom Mortimer
Tom is the editor at Betting Circle and has been creating online content for over 10 years. Tom mainly writes about sport and gambling, but every now and then also delves into fleshier subjects like politics and psychology. When he was 18 he created HungarianFootball.com and over the last few years he's written on a freelance basis for ESPN, WorldSoccer, Goal.com, among many others.