London Maccabi Lions boss Andy Landesberg has made a staunch defence of the team he selected for Sunday’s JC Cyril Anekstein Cup semi-final against Faithfold.
There was widespread criticism of a strong Lions team that included members of the club’s first team who play in the Spartan South Midlands League first division, but Landesberg says that his selection is proof that he respects the JC League Cup competition, and, ultimately, wants to win it.
Eilon Kennet, the former Lions boss who has just steered his Redbridge Jewish Care team into the final, led the criticism, telling JC Sport: “I think it’s a shame that the main MSFL Cup will ultimately be decided by the availability of boys playing on Saturdays in the South Midlands League, but everyone wants to win the Cup Final.”
But Landesberg says that he was left with little option after having six regulars, including Lee Cash and Danny Daggers, cup-tied and another injured for the last four clash they won 3-2 to end Faithfold’s treble hopes.
TJ Keterman and player-coach James Gershfield were among the scorers for a Lions team that also featured Lions Saturday first-team keeper Mario Cenolli, who was standing in for the cup-tied Jake Doffman.
After the match, Faithfold manager Zuriel Solomon told JC Sport: “We knew Lions would be strong and were able to call upon five or six of their Saturday team but that just spurred us on.”
Landesberg says he was frustrated by the accusations that he went against the spirit of the Anekstein Cup competition.
He told JC Sport: "London Maccabi Lions are a big Club with 26 Youth teams, two teams playing in Saturday non-league football at a very good level, two Sunday MSFL teams and two masters/vets teams. One of my focuses since taking over the role as Director of Football, was to make sure that we created an excellent relationship, and communication between all players, Coaches and Managers of every team within the Club.
"To be able to achieve this there were two very crucial relationships that needed to work. Firstly to make sure that when the under-18's finished their spell in youth football and went off to University and jobs, that they wanted to continue to be involved at senior level with the Club, and secondly that the Saturday football players at the higher levels had a commitment and responsibility to the Club to support the teams involved in Sunday Jewish football as and when required.
"My role as Manager of the successful under-18's team from last year has really helped, as we now have six to eight players now playing for the MSFL team on a very regular basis (with 10 boys signed up) and at least three of them have been playing for the Saturday 1st or Reserve team.
"When the Saturday players signed up to play for Lions, one of our requirements was they were also expected to sign for the MSFL, I believe at least seven or eight of them did this at the start of the season. As a Club we use whatever resources we have, whenever we need them. With the average age of the MSFL A team now I believe 23 - including Aviel Schwarz - I can feel very happy that we are starting to make significant progress in bringing all the teams within the Club much closer together.
"When re-building this team from a combination of youngsters and a few more experienced players, I realised that unfortunately six of them are cup-tied. So from Sunday's victory over NL Raiders, and a further injury I only had six of that squad available to start on Sunday. Out of the 14 in the squad six were 19 or under, two were over 40. The Saturday teams had their games called off due to bad weather, and I was fortunate enough to have three or four available to me. When selecting the squad for Sunday, it was an easy decision. Firstly my regular players who have been brilliant since I took over in November, then a very few from Saturday to make up the squad.
"I don't feel that the selection that I made was unfair. What we as a Club have done, is respected the quality and level of this competition, and Jewish football in general. We are hopeful to have as many of our regular squad available for the final, and will probably have to use one or two from Saturday to make up the final numbers. Just as a point to note. The 1st team have a game on both the 20th and 22nd of April, the final is the 21 April.
"Lastly and most importantly, I feel that it is essential that everybody realises, that it is in fact the combination of seven 19-year-olds and two over 40's that have got us to this final, and they deserve all the respect and positive comments they are receiving. I expect there is a chance in fact that the number of first team players who are in the final squad may increase, but that is because at least two of the MSFL players are in line to be included in the first team squad in the next few weeks.
"It is a clear indication that Lions are building an excellent structure and investing in the future of Jewish football, we start them at seven-years-old, and if we can get two or three Boys reaching the first team squad every year then I believe we as a Club have achieved one of our goals."
Faithfold boss Zuriel Solomons responded to Landesberg's comments. "You can’t disagree with what he has done," he said. "There are no rules to stop them playing. Morally you could say it is wrong, but football has no morals when you want to win.
"The problem I see is that the league says only one player can move down from an A-team to a B-team, but it doesn’t make sense that four boys can move down from a semi-professional team playing in the Spartan League to their Sunday League team. Most clubs in Lions situation would have done the same.
"Saying that, I don’t care. For me personally, it just excites me more to play against better players if people bend the rules so what. As a player you have to believe you are better than your opponent. If a boxer who is 5ft fights a boxer who is 6ft would he moan? The bigger they are the harder they fall!
"I knew Lions would call upon some of the Saturday team to be honest we were the better team we played the better football and this is evident from the video. They finished their chances, we didn’t.
"They had luck with them and that is what wins games we missed chances had five regulars missing two B-team players in the squad and a chairman Ben Lewis who looked as good if not better than most of the players out there, all of who was equal to what was in front of us and that was our situation, not that Lions had better players than us because they didn’t.
"We have come a long way to get where we are and are improving which is frightening because some of the football we have been playing has been superb.
"I believe in my boys and may the best team win in the final."
Lions will take on Redbridge in the cup final at Wingate & Finchley on April 21, kick-off is 6.30pm.
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