Israeli women's football team has a new coach – and a realistic vision
Argentina-born Gabriel Burstein is a veteran of the sport and an experienced coach. Could he be the one to transform the struggling team?
Gabriel Burstein doesn't want to talk about winning. Not just yet.
The 43-year-old just became head coach of the Israeli women's national football team in July. He's inheriting a team that for years has struggled to find its place; the women have never qualified for a World Cup or Euro competition. Where a fast-growing crop of national teams in other countries has shown progress over the years, the Israeli women are consistently plagued by lack of support, participation and funding. Indeed, the deck is stacked, and expectations must be managed accordingly. As a veteran of the sport and a coach for the past 10 years, Burstein intimately understands this.
"Let's start by qualifying for a big competition, then let's talk about winning it," Burstein, an Argentina native, told From The Grapevine.
"I absolutely love playing for the national team, and yes, it is a big honor, but it gets harder to justify the conditions," veteran midfielder Diana Redman, an American transplant, told us. "The federation provides far more support and appropriate conditions for the men than the women."
Burstein knows he has a long journey ahead. He takes over for Guy Azouri, who founded a women's academy six years ago and has seen steady progress in the quality of players coming of age. In that time, Israel's relatively narrow view of football – as a man's sport – has begun to shift. Cities that once housed only boys' teams are now lowering the gates for girls. Recruiting is stronger, and morale is slowly building.
There is reason for optimism, for sure. Burstein feels it. And he wants his players to feel it, too.
"At this moment my goal is to change the work mentality of the
players a little, to form a good working team," he told us. "It is the
most important thing for me now."
Nonetheless, it's easy to be dragged down by the frustrations that have dogged the team for so many years. Players do earn a salary, but it's very low, meaning many players are also working full-time jobs. They average three to four practice times a week, a far cry from more well-supported national teams. They usually can't keep their game jerseys, and they have to be bused long distances instead of flying to international competitions.
Redman, who at 34 is considered one of the more senior players, knows she likely won't see a drastic improvement in the team's record during her career. "Other countries have invested in their women's programs, and it's no coincidence that their programs are blooming and their teams improving dramatically. It's just a matter of time before Israel gets on board," she said.
But like Burstein, she has hope.
"I personally won't see the benefits, but the younger girls will be in a better position when they get to the senior age," Redman said.
As he gears up for the 2019-2020 season, Burstein is constantly tending to and refining his long-term goals for the team.
"We are well below the countries that have already broken the barrier of professionalism," he continued. "This fight to qualify for the next World Cup is not going to be tomorrow."
His immediate focus? The UEFA qualifier, when Israel plays Italy on Aug. 29.
"Everyone has to play their part: the federation, the government, the
coaches and the players, all pulling together to reach higher," he told us. "It is a
process, but I have patience and I believe a lot in the Israeli player."
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