For 15 years, Bnei Sakhnin was the leading Arab club in Israel. Since their debut season in 2003-2004, they played almost every year at the top tier of the Israeli football, missing only a single season in 2006-2007. Now, after an unsuccessful season, Bnei Sakhnin is relegated to the second division and the club's future is looking unstable.
The last season was full of bad decisions. The squad was unbalanced and was composed of talented players like Maharan Radi, who won the championship in each of the last six seasons, inexperienced players from the youth team and unknown foreigners that failed to play well.
Moreover, the person who always was in problems was the manager. Six different managers led the team, and each of them was fired after a short term. The club chairman, Muhammed Abu Younes, was always known as a person that takes hasty calls, but in this year he made it even worse than ever.
If it wasn't enough, there were also violent incidents among in the crowd. Bnei Sakhnin fans protested against the club more than once, and sometimes it got too far. In a cup match against Maccabi Haifa, the fans threw stones and eventually hit their rivals' bus. In another case, fans were stabbed by their friends in the stands. After a long time, Bnei Sakhnin hosted matches behind closed doors, and the tension is consistently high.
There are also local political issues in the city. After ten years, the Mayor of Sakhnin, Mazen Ghanayem, was defeated in the municipal elections. Ghanayem was the former chairman of the club. While he was the mayor, the team kept to get funding from the municipality, and under the new mayor, it may be in doubt.
The next season of Bnei Sakhnin is going to be interesting. As it still unknown what will be with the club and there is a decreasing interest in the club among Arabs in Israel, new powers will try to take over their place. At the second division, they will face their old rivals, Maccabi Ahi Nazareth, as well as two newly promoted clubs, Hapoel Umm El Fahm and Moadon Sport Kafr Qasim. All these teams have strong support and a wish to become the best Arab team in Israel.
As the future of Bnei Sakhnin is uncertain, there might be new hope for Arab football in Israel.
Thumbnail photo by Kobi Eliyahu