Back in his native Israel, Mordechai Spiegler remains every bit a star. The former international amassed 83 caps in his playing days and remains his country's record goalscorer with 32 strikes. Having turned out for the likes of Maccabi Netanya, Paris Saint-Germain and New York Cosmos, where he rubbed shoulders with Pele, the erstwhile striker also holds the honour of having hit Israel's only goal at a FIFA World Cup™ finals, during the 1-1 draw with Sweden in 1970.
Now employed by the Israel Football Association, one of his major projects is developing football in the country's Arab villages. The 65-year-old made the trip to Switzerland for Israel's final 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier and before the match he headed to FIFA headquarters for an audience with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. Afterwards, he agreed to share his thoughts with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: M. Spiegler, do you still believe in Israel's chances of reaching South Africa next summer?
Mordechai Spiegler: Our chances are very slim. When I saw Luxembourg beat Switzerland last year, I couldn't believe my eyes. But here we are, a year on, and Switzerland are practically through and it'd take Greece not beating that same Luxembourg side for Israel to go to the World Cup [via the play-offs]. There's about the same chance of it snowing today.
You yourself know all about playing at a FIFA World Cup finals, of course.
(Interrupting) You know, in a sense I've had enough of talking about the 1970 World Cup (laughs). We need to turn our attention to the future; that's what matters. Let me tell you something: I still hold the record for the number of goals scored for the national team with my 32 strikes and I'll be delighted when that record gets beaten.
What was missing from the team this time around?
We began the competition thinking that with three 'easy' matches at home, we already had nine points in the bag. As a result, we lost to Latvia and that was a catastrophe. Our problem is that we don't know how to go forward one match at a time and keep our feet on the ground. There's a saying in football that "You can't score your second goal before you've scored the first" and I think we need to keep telling our players that.
Israel have nonetheless taken major strides in recent years.
It's true that I've noticed an improvement among Israeli players at an individual level. Yossi Benayoun is a fantastic driving force, for example. That said, in collective terms something is still not quite right as this campaign has shown. We need to keep improving to be able to beat the really big teams and be more consistent.
What is your role these days?
I'm responsible for amateur football for the Israeli FA. I go into Arab villages and pass on my experience to people in the amateur game. We train coaches, we set up courses and we bring Europeans over to exchange ideas. I also look after analysing the teams Israel will come up against. When we lose, I can only blame myself. But in general terms, I think positively because you mustn't forget that it's just a game. It's not the most important thing in the world and a bad loser can never be a good winner.