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Efi Birnbaum: "I can watch the Americans in the NBA" | Israel today


A decade after he retired from coaching, the veteran coach admits: "I neglected basketball in Israel" • He fears for the future of the Israeli player: "How will he progress if only foreigners play at Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague?" • Tonight his two exes meet in the cup

The last meeting in the quarter-final stage of the State Cup will bring together Maccabi Tel Aviv tonight (Monday) with Bnei Herzliya, who will begin their title defense campaign.

The one who knows both clubs closely as a head coach is Efi Birnbaum, who with the cup holder knocked out the Yellows in the semi-finals of the cup in the past.

At the age of 68, the former coach who passed through all the summits of Israeli basketball and ranks second on the all-time list in the number of games played and fourth in the number of victories, sits and watches today with pleasure from the sidelines on the industry that was a central part of his life for many decades, but is still hungry to share information.

In a special interview with "Israel Today" he is not afraid, as usual, to express his opinion on the burning issues.

Effie, first of all, how are you these days?

"Praise God, thank you."

Have you been following Israeli basketball in recent years?

"Much less than before but still following. I kind of neglected the branch that is so close to my heart but it gets along without me."

Why are you following less?

"If I want to watch American players playing, I see that I can change the channel on the remote control and watch the NBA. Instead of seeing second-tier players in Israel - I can change the channel and see first-tier players in other leagues."

What do you think about the state of the industry in Israel and especially of the Israeli basketball player?

"The Israeli player no longer controls the locker room, in the past the Israelis used to control there. If you don't control the locker room, of course it won't happen on the floor. If Maccabi Tel Aviv has an agreement with the Euroleague for years to come and only foreigners play - how do you want the Israeli player to progress? We hear Statements like Nikola Vujic's that there aren't enough talented young players here in his opinion. If I had a child who played I wouldn't send him to basketball, I would push him to play soccer, where he would have a better chance of becoming a player. On the other hand, if he did grow up here A promising player, he won't stay in the league and then the teams have no point in investing in them."

In the past you talked a lot about the Euroleague and its system, what bothers you in the factory?

"Today, any player who wants to advance and stand out will go play for Maccabi and play in the Euroleague. It's more of a situation where the equation is not equal in the league because the players who reach it are at a different level. The Euroleague is a private league that has blocked equality in Israeli basketball."

You left the lines almost a decade ago, do you miss it sometimes?

"After many, many years and thoughts, I reached a state of pure pleasure watching from the sidelines, today I can see the things I love. My whole life has been around basketball, for me it was not just a profession, it was a way of life. In the past I invested everything in my teams, Today I invest in my family and my pleasures, it's a big correction for me and I really enjoy it and my peace."

With his wife Deborah, photo: Alan Shiver

If a team called today and offered you to be a professional coach or manager in adult or youth teams, would you want to come back?

What I want is less relevant, those who want know how to get in touch, but probably don't want to anymore.

Working in youth departments is something that is very interesting to me, I even courted Ramat Gan myself, the place where I grew up and where I live, and to which I contributed a lot.

I asked and offered myself to the mayor but they didn't want me, looking back I think they were afraid of my big name.

Maybe it's my mistake but it's also theirs.

Tzvika Sharaf said in the past that I was the best advisor he had in his career, if I was the best advisor for the great coaches, how come I am not good enough to serve as an advisor to the Ramat Gan municipality?

Politics rules, I'm enjoying today resting and not resentful about it."

There has been a lot of talk recently about the status of the coach in Israel, what is your opinion on the matter?

"The status of the coach in Israeli sports is lacking, perhaps the new Minister of Sports who was the chairman of Kiryat Gat in the past will help and contribute to the status of the coach and to people like me who can still contribute with their knowledge and experience."

Let's talk a little about the trophy.

Herzliya is in a great period, does it have a chance to surprise Maccabi?

"There is always a chance to surprise Maccabi, especially since they are coming after a painful loss in Europe. Despite this, it is still a big surprise in terms of salary and budget gaps to beat them. In recent years, Maccabi has been much more vulnerable because the players' heads are in the Euroleague."

In 2007, you eliminated Maccabi in the semi-finals with Bnei Hasharon.

It was after Maccabi's great years, what do you remember from that season?

"Beating Maccabi is always a great achievement because the gap in the budget is huge, that season we beat them three times in a row."

Adams in front of Kemp, photo: Danny Maron

Did you believe before the game that you could do it?

"Yes, we had special players and a mentally strong dressing room, we believed we could beat any team in Israel."

You beat Maccabi quite a few over the years, at a time when it was less common.

what was your secret

"I knew all their minuses and I was able to bring this to light in certain groups and beat them. The knowledge and ability to know this gave us the possibility to beat them."

In 2017 you left your position as the professional manager of Hapoel Tel Aviv, what didn't work there?

"It was very important and difficult for me. My mother passed away in the United States at the same time I started working at the club. I had a relationship, but from there you can't manage the club, my head was busy with other things and it was a very big crisis. In the short time I was very much enjoying the position, Later I learned that there was someone who tried to indirectly bring me back into line and did not want me as a professional manager."

We hear reports that the union is considering appointing a foreign coach to the Israeli national team, what do you think about that?

"I don't know where they got it from, I know that the Israeli coach knows the Israeli player inside out and can bring him to higher places, because he knows how to take advantage of his abilities. It will take a long time for a foreign coach to learn this. It seems to me to be a political matter, Raise your hands. We need to support the Israeli coach alongside the Israeli player: look at Maccabi Tel Aviv, they made a terrible mistake by giving all the professional management for years to Vičić and now his conclusion is that there is no Israeli player who can help them."


"They made a terrible mistake with him", photo: Alan Shiver

Over the years you have been known as a coach with a hot temperament, do you think people judged you for all this?

"Maybe but it was true, but this is who I am, I can't change it. When I see Oded Ketch's temper it kills me, he seems to me to be tormented and I feel the need to tell him 'do me a favor and leave it, you are really suffering All the time".

What is the moment you feel like you got the appreciation you deserved?

"To this day, I walk down the street and people approach me and tell me they miss me."

Who is the greatest player you have coached?

"I've coached players who gave their all to the team and that's what was most important to me so it's hard for me to pick one. I really connected with Earl Williams, we had a very special relationship. He was a player who even before the game started you could already write that he would get 20 rebounds. I liked Kenny Williams too. In Herzliya, I coached Lee Nailon, who before every game you knew would score 20 points or more."

Is there a moment in your career that you remember and follows you to this day?

"Yes, they took away a cup with Hapoel Jerusalem because of a referee's whistle."

Finally, is there a role that you have not yet performed in Israeli basketball that you would like to fulfill?

"Even though I coached in the biggest places in Israeli basketball, I will settle for the fact that in my city they decide they need a professional to help them."

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Source: israelhayom

All sports articles on 2023-01-16

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