This past Saturday, Maccabi “Oded” Tel Aviv, the Under-17 side won the league championship title and this coming Wednesday, the young Yellow & Blue will look to take home the double when they face Maccabi Haifa for the State Cup. After a fantastic season, we sat down with Head Coach Eliezer Ben Aharon who spoke about the campaign that was and his experience working with the new professional staff under Performance Director Patrick van Leeuwen.

How did you arrive at Maccabi?
“That’s an interesting story. I went to watch a final which was a Under-17 Derby and I was looking at the coaches on the sidelines and I thought to myself that I wanted to be in that exact same spot. There was an Israel Football Association professional course that began a few months later and I met Nir Levin, the professional director of the youth department at the time and I asked him a number of questions. I also then began going to watch the training sessions at Kiryat Shalom and I decided that I had to find my way into the system. Over the next little while, I built a training regimen for players and I presented it to Nir who liked it and asked me if I would run the Football School. I stayed in that role for six years and then went on to coach the Under-16 club and then after one season in that position I moved up to the Under-17 side.”

Summing up the season so far:
“You can really see how the team jelled together and improved over the course of the season. Increasing the work rate, learning new things to go along with the responsibility and the will to succeed was the way we were able to record the good results that we have had up to now.”

Ben Aharon continued:
“Personally, it was a very challenging and difficult season. It’s not easy to make such big changes after doing things a certain way for so long. Patrick van Leeuwen came in at the beginning of the season and demanded that we forget everything that we knew and begin learning football the way that he believes in. I began to learn, change and move on to a brand new path that was also very organized with the new staff. I know that my goal as a member of the Maccabi youth department is to reach the same goals that we have set as a club.”
Working under a new youth department director:
“The work is different, challenging and interesting. Everyone in the department trains the same way, plays the same style, works by the training manual and participates in presentations and lectures that help enrich us. We also work with the latest technology including GPS and the C Sharp program. But what really makes the department unique is that we are all equal, from the Under-19 coach to the coaches in the football schools. There are no short cuts or cutting corners but there is a set way and there is patience to learn and to teach. The training sessions take place on a full pitch (that wasn’t the case beforehand), the staff is composed of 4 professionals, a coach, assistant coach, goalkeeping coach, fitness coach in addition to a roving psychologist that goes from team to team.”

Influence on the club:
“My ability to influence comes from the belief in the new system. I believed right away that if I wanted my players to understand and buy into the new way of training, that I myself had to believe in them, learn all about them and then enforce them. My experience with youth also helped in this process.”

Feeling a change and improvement within the team:
“Over the course of the season there were times where I felt that the team was moving forward and improving and then there were times when we went through a tough patch. From my experiences the season is a process and there are times when you slow down but the ultimate goal is to always bring the club back to the top, to a point which was even better than the last. During the campaign, I felt that the team had faith and belief all the way through and that could also be seen in the victories that we recorded in the last few minutes of a match. Some will say that it was luck, I say that it was because of hard work. The Championship is the goal by perseverance and dedication for a full season.”
Players moving up to the Under-19 side next season:
“At the start of the season I had a goal to have at least 10 players advance to the Under-19 squad. I still believe that this is a possibility and I hope that it occurs. Of course, the decision is made by the performances over the course of the season and future potential. The final decisions are made by a number of professionals and coaches.”

Stars of the season:
“To begin with I have to commend my assistant coach Leon Asraf, I believe that I am very lucky that he is with me and I couldn’t have asked for a better assistant. I also want to point out the quality people and large staff that we have including Guy Nachshon, fitness coach Gal, along with Ilan and Antonio who always supported me. In reference to the players it’s difficult to pick the best ones because the strength of the team comes from being exactly that, a team. However, Yoav made a nice leap forward after playing with the Under-15 side last season and worked very hard. Keeper Daniel Peretz also did nicely and has represented the National Team. In my opinion, every player has improved themselves.”

Specific match that helped the club move forward:
“I think it would be the home win over Maccabi Haifa. Last season when I coached the Under-16 side we lost to Haifa twice and I saw the player’s faces after the games themselves. I told them that if they continue to work hard the results will come. A year went by and we were able to defeat them twice this season and we have one victory left to complete the picture, the State Cup Final on Wednesday.”

Plans for ten years down the road:
“I don’t have the desire to be a first team coach. I’m interested in being a coach that teaches young coaches how to develop players at Maccabi. I want to be the best coach for youth players in Israel. I believe that I have the ability to do so, the desire and passion to reach that goal.”

Parting words:
“I want to use this opportunity to say a few words to my players: Next season some will stay and some will continue on. It’s not easy to be part of the Under-19 squad when you are a year younger than some of the players. Those who are strong willed and those with character will ultimately be the ones who will continue on and realize their dream. I hope that the tools that you’ve received from the staff will allow you to get over the hurdle of the first season.”