After just six months in charge, Uri Malmilian was politely asked to leave Betar Jerusalem this week. Last week, another former Israeli football legend, Avi Nimni was also cordially asked to pack-up and find “new opportunities”. Both past football legends were deities on the field and failures as managers. Both wore the number 8 on their shirt.
In the larger scheme of Israeli things the plight of Milimlian and Nimni is not a big deal; after all we live in a country where turmoil and confusion is common. And in a week where Israeli convention and political loyalty (Barak leaves the labor party) took a cliff dive, football firings is not important news. After all they were pretty lousy as managers…but their discharge has underlining significance and meaning. Malmilian’s and Nimni;s dismissal marks the end of an era – the demise of Israeli sport team ideology, the erosion of team symbols and a milestone in Israeli social history.
Ehhh…the sacking of two football coaches a milestone in Israeli social history seems a bit much, but if we take a closer look at Malmilian and Nimni’s story we get a an interesting perspective of Israel – past, present and future.
Both Malmilian and Nimni were Gods as players; superb athletes and team symbols. For Betar Jerusalem and Maccabbi Tel Aviv respectively they were the team. Malmalian may be considered the best Israeli football player of all time and Avi Nimni was an institution at Maccabbi. Both players were above management, above the team, directly linked to the fans. So much so, that they were untouchables. No one could or would disapprove of them. Both spent huge amount of time with their devotees – whenever fans invited Nimni and Malamilian to a Bar Mitzvahs, weddings, etc., they attended. Both spent their fair share at hospitals consoling the sick and ailing. Both volunteered their time and dedicated their resources to their supporters. The fans cherished and exalted them.
Avi Nimini’s deity like status at Maccabbi was exemplified when a coach who dared to fire him was himself sacked by fan pressure. Nimini who was expelled from the team for a short period, returned on the shoulders of fans. Nimi’s exalted status at Maccabbi was evident as he went through 3 different team owners and held every management position possible. Owners feared fan backlash whenever they disagreed with Nimni.
A few years ago, anyone who dared to confront Avi Nimni or Mailamian would have been scoured alive…last week they were dismissed without a moan. No fan outcry, no fan riot, no nothing. Polite goodbyes by the fans and that’s all.
In a week where Israeli’s old guard, the labor party, in an act of utter sleaze, nailed itself shut in a political coffin, it’s only apt that another one of Israel’s last symbols – its God like sport legends depart.
Israel is changing. Winning has become more imortant then everything, more important then historical loylity…for Ehud Barak, Betar Jerusalem, Maccabbi Tel Aviv and the fans.