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ISRAEL: Israeli soccer fans want Egyptian coach Shehata

February 9, 2010 |  8:59 pm

"I'd rather die of hunger than entertain the possibility of coaching Israel," declared Hassan Shehata, the soccer coach who brought home to Egypt the African Cup of Nations for the third year running.

One might wonder who even asked. Well, actually, the Israeli Forum for Appointing Hassan Shehata to Coach of the National Team did.

These aren't good days for Israeli soccer. It's going way down in FIFA's rankings. Jerusalem's Beitar soccer club lost its energy-tycoon sponsor Guma Aguiar to a mental collapse. A few weeks of strange behavior ended with him missing most of an important match. He explained that he had been in Gaza visiting captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit; his family had him committed to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation.

Israel's World Cup dreams are becoming history, and so is Dror Kashtan's job as national coach. Avi Louzon, chairman of the Israeli football association, has assigned a committee to find candidates for his replacement, preferably from outside the country.

The people at Sport5, an Israeli TV sports channel, say he needn't look very far. In a campaign dubbed "The Soccer Version of the Geneva Initiative," letters were sent to international officials, as well as Louzon and Shehata. 

"Dear Sir," they wrote EUFA President Michel Platini and his FIFA counterpart, Joseph Sepp Blatter: "In the past few days, a bold, brilliant, brave idea has emerged.... This is an historic moment of fantastic proportions, one that cannot be missed. The hiring of Mr. Shehata would change not only the face of Israeli football and Israeli-Egyptian relations but also possibly alter the fate of the Middle East, not to mention the profile of world football as a positive force in global society.... Clearly, you can imagine the obstacles confronting this visionary idea. We know that with your help, this vision can come to fruition."

In the letter to Shehata, the "forum" congratulated him warmly for his impressively accomplishments, which they have long followed and admired. We, the small neighboring nation, also dream of qualifying for the World or European Cup but fail time after time. "We believe Israel's national team needs a coach like you ... do you not seek new challenges? ... Can you turn down the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Anwar Sadat, who came to Israel and changed history?"

Shehata follows in the footsteps of Egypt's president -- only the current one, who came into power after Sadat was killed (for coming to Israel and changing history). Mubarak won't visit Israel. Shehata says he wouldn't coach Israel even if it was the last team on Earth.

Whether hope or hoax, 600 people joined the Facebook group supporting the appointment -- "for the future of our children," no less. In theory, the idea has merit. In reality, it's more of a gag. And there's an online petition too, signed so far by 123 Israelis who are either genuinely devoted soccer fans, enviably naive or just have a really great sense of humor.

-- Batsheva Sobelman in Jerusalem