The end of the calendar year finds Hapoel Ashkelon FC in fourth out of fourteen in Israel’s Premier League. After 17 games, we’re 16 points ahead of Hapoel Tel-Aviv, the higher of the two teams in the relegation slots.
After 26 games the league divides into two. The best way for us to avoid relegation is to make sure we’re in the top six when this division takes place. I reckon 41 points from 26 would do it. That gives us a target of 12 points from the next 9 games. Manageable, but no shoe-in: we can’t afford many slips.
Still, if you’d offered me this position at the start of the season I’d have bitten your hand off – whilst disbelieving that it would be possible.
In the office on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, I sit down with my assistant manager, Seb Rozental, and try to identify the factors that account for our success to date.
Here’s our list:
- We’ve kept players fit. Pre-match previews indicate that we typically have fewer players unavailable than our opponents. We’re bottom of the injury table: we’ve been there or thereabouts most of the season.
- Our captain, Pedro Galván, and vice-captain, Tal Machluf, aren’t out-and-out leaders. They aren’t General Sir Michael Jacksons: you wouldn’t go over the top for them. But they are good (respective attribute scores of 15 and 16 for leadership and 13 and 7 for determination). As a result, the squad has remained focused: there’s been little squabbling.
- Our two main formations using a sweeper formation and an asymmetric diamond have suited the squad, enabling us to play to our strengths and mitigate our deficiencies so far as possible.
- The mix of personalities in the squad. Of our 27 players, 20 we would describe as balanced. This is way more than I’d like. I want greater diversity and strength of characters. But it does at least mean we have seven others, who we describe as ‘fairly determined’ (three players), ‘resolute’, ‘fairly professional’, ‘spirited’, and ‘fairly ambitious’ (one each). That’s been enough, just, to give us some character.
- Player development. Credit to the backroom staff, the club (we have good training facilities) and the senor players for their tutoring.
- Though none of them is a world-beater, each of the players we brought in at the start of the season has done the job we needed them for. A shout-out here for Manuel Wagner, who manages to play within his obvious limitations to achieve consistently good ratings.