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Being a football hipster is serious business with knowledge about the young starlet making waves for a non-mainstream mid table side often a prerequisite rather than a feather in the cap. To further enhance your, perhaps, burgeoning reputation as a true hipster, Outside of the Boot is on hand to provide an in-depth guide to some of the less celebrated teams around Europe. In this edition of the series, David Haimovich has a look at Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
The previous Israeli Premier League campaign of Hapoel Be’er Sheva will go down in the club’s history. After 40 barren years the southern side managed to clinch the title. Another fact that can’t go down unnoticed, is that it is the first time a football club owned by a woman, Alona Barkat, has won the title. Besides, none of what happened to this club would be able to occur without the support, calculated management, and patience of the owner.
It was a two horse race between Hapoel Be’er Sheva and Maccabi Tel-Aviv,with the latter winning three consecutive league titles until now. Be’er Sheva edged their opponents by 2 points while leading the table for most of the season. The club had a remarkable unbeaten run stretching to a series of 29 games. In fact, they lost just twice in the league for the entire season.
It was also a season that saw the club leave the old and unattractive stadium, Vasermil, to the newly built Toto Turner stadium. The atmosphere in the stadium was a huge contributing factor in the club’s success.
The club had decent runs in domestic cup competitions as well. In the Israeli Cup, the club reached the semi-finals only to be eliminated by eventual winners, Maccabi Haifa. As for the Israeli Toto cup (the less coveted cup), the club lost out to Beitar Jerusalem after a penalty shootout in the quarter-finals.
As for European participation, the club started in the second round of the UEFA Europa League qualifying stage. An Encounter with Swiss side FC Thun saw them draw the first match at home. In the reverse match, Thun walked out with the upper hand leaving Hapoel to focus domestically.
The man standing on the lines for the southern club is regarded as one of the promising emerging talents in the Israeli managerial scene. In his debut season with the club, 36 years old, Barak Bakhar is the man responsible for Be’er Sheva’s success, becoming one the youngest managers to win a league title in Israel. Bakhar who started his managerial career as an assistant coach at Israel’s most northern club, Hapoel Kiryat Shmona, was eventually appointed manager of the club back in 2012-13. He managed to make the club a regular member in the top half of the league table and embarked on European trips with the club while winning the club its first Israeli Cup in 2013-14.
Bakhar started this campaign in winning fashion as well by beating Israeli Cup holders Maccabi Haifa in the Israeli Super Cup.
He is known for man management and is not afraid to bench star players of the club. With Bakhar in charge it is an approach of if you’re good enough and your skills are what the team needs at the moment-you’ll play. That attitude also means that he is not afraid to promote young players and hand them a chance in the senior team and aid their development.
The media was quick to create speculation of relationships breaking down with the club captain and the city’s darling, Elyaniv Barda, when he was benched in the latter stages of the season. The same goes for star player Maor Buzaglo. Those rumours were quashed when the players themselves stated that they trust the manager and accept that as part of being professional.
Barak Bakhar has a tendency to mix his side up according to the upcoming opposition. The squad is very versatile and able to play in several formations ranging from 4-3-3 to 3-5-2 and even 4-5-1.
The team enforces a high pressing game with many players surrounding the player with the ball. The wingers usually stay wide and the full-backs join the attack, overlapping. When attacking, the central midfielders come forward to join the attack with the central defenders getting forward towards the halfway line.
The attacking play is very diverse as the goals come from different situations. According to end of the second round of games in the league statistics: 11 goals came from headers and 36% of their goals were scored due to a quick transition play. They shoot quite a lot from outside the box, nearly 50% of their shots in the end of the second round of games in the Israeli Premier League came from outside the box. The average shots per game stands on 13.7, second in the league behind rivals Maccabi Tel-Aviv by one shot.
When you have skilful wingers and full backs that join the attack it’s certain that you’ll win free kicks in dangerous areas, and for Hapoel Be’er Sheva it is all part of the plan. Becoming an important aspect of Hapoel’s game is their creativity in attacking set pieces which won the club 13 goals not including penalties. It is obvious that the set pieces are being worked on in the training ground and the movement of the players isn’t random and each player knows what is required of him during a set piece. The players in charge of most free kicks are attacking midfielder Maor Buzaglo and defensive midfielder Maharan Radi.
The club has been involved in this transfer market with special focus on foreign talent as the club set its sights on a highly anticipated European Campaign. The club just recently lost out to Celtic in a thrilling and nerve racking UEFA Champions League Playoff match, but they will still be involved in the UEFA Europa League group stage. Players coming in:
Guy Haimov: The Israeli goalkeeper who worked with Bakhar at Kiryat Shmona has been brought to supply cover for the current veteran goalkeeper, Dudu Goresh.
Miguel Vitor: Nicknamed as “The Mountain” during his time at Paok Saloniki. The 27 year old Portuguese central defender rose up the ranks of Portuguese giants, Benfica Lisbon, but failed to establish himself as a regular in the senior side of the club. He spent most of his time being loaned out to several clubs including a short stint with Leicester City in 2010-11. When his contract ran out with Benfica he moved on a free to Greek side Paok Saloniki. His successful time with Paok drew the interest from Hapoel Be’er Sheva.
Yuval Shabtai: Having agreed terms with Be’er Sheva in the middle of the previous campaign, the midfielder made the move on a free from Hapoel Ra’anana at the end of the season.
Lucio Maranhão: The Brazilian striker spent most of his career in lower divisions in Brazil before making the switch to Israel. He is a very physical player which will assist Hapoel in dealing with strong centre backs on their European tour.
Shir Tzedek- The centre back who kept the club’s Champions League aspirations alive with the winning goal against Olympiakos is crucial in the club’s back four line. He is now reunited with the manager Barak Bakha, as the two know each other from their time at Hapoel Kiryat Shmona. This will be only his second season for the club but he already feels at home. He is known for his clever and calm approach and being consistent. He is dominant in the air and aids the club’s high pressing when he stays up after set pieces. He is regarded as one of the best Israeli centre backs available and has been called for the national team for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.
John Ogu- The Nigerian International who made his debut for his nation back in 2013. Unfortunately, despite good performances for his club, he hasn’t been called up much ever since. Perhaps being a key member in a title winning side will earn him a recall with the Super Eagles. The central midfielder is a fan favourite at the club. This season is his third for Hapoel Be’er Sheva. Being positioned at the centre of the park means that most of the plays go through him. He is as good in setting up plays as well as breaking down the opposition’s attempts. He is aggressive but fair and knows how to tackle.
Maor Melikson- There is a bit of romance in the attacking midfielder’s connection with the club. His first spell with the club was back at 2008. After joining the club when it was in the second tier of Israeli football, he was a key member in the club’s promotion campaign in his debut season (08/09). He was at the club for two and a half seasons, making a switch to Polish side Wisla Krakow in the middle of the 2010-11 campaign. He was a key member in Wisla’s side guiding the club to the league title that season. His performances attracted interest from many teams in Europe. French side Valenciennes managed to sign him back in January 2013. He was there for a season and a half and returned to Hapoel at the beginning of the 2014-15 season. His first season since returning wasn’t easy and it took him time to adapt. Overcoming injuries in the process, Maor hit top form last season and was crucial in securing the title with his flair and technique, contributing 7 goals and 3 assists. It seems that he improved mentally and this has aided him to become a better player and a leader In the squad.
Dan Bitton- A product of the club’s youth system. The 20 year old attacking midfielder is the one to follow this season. In an interview for a sport website in Israel one of his youth team mates named him as the “Little Buzaglo”, as he possesses similar qualities to senior team member Maor Buzaglo. His youth team manager, Moti Nagar, hailed him as a player with huge passion for the game and tremendous drive to succeed. He has a very good shot and delivers quality set pieces as well. He is technically gifted but has to work on his physical side. With the club competing on 4 fronts this season and with the manager’s tendency to promote young players, it is much expected that he will get a run in the side.
With many of their supposed to be title challenge rivals in transition, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, who managed to keep hold of their strongest assets, are the favourites to lift the title again. It won’t be easy but it’s very up to Hapoel to decide the title. Adding a trophy such as the Israeli Cup or the Israeli Toto Cup would be satisfying as well.
Failing to progress to the Champions League group stage will see the club participating in the Europa League group stage. The draw is a tough one for the club. They will face major sides like Inter Milan, Southampton and Sparta Prague. After beating Olympiakos and nearly edging Celtic in a thrilling encounter it will be interesting to see how they do in that group. One thing is certain, they will not be an easy opposition.
European participation will be a test for the club physically and mentally and might cause for a performance drop in other competitions.With travelling expected to take it’s toll as it does to many clubs, it will be worth following club’s fortunes.
Read all our 2016-17 Hipster Guide articles here