Coaches: An endangered species?
© AFP

Israeli entrepreneur Moshe Hogeg was so upset when star striker Lionel Messi was left out of Argentina's side for their FIFA World Cup™ quarter-final against Germany last year that he teamed up with an online gaming company to buy a club where fans decide over the Internet who will play and in what position.

"Millions of fans around the world wanted to see Messi in the starting 11 but one man thought otherwise and destroyed all our dreams when they lost," said Hogeg. "So we decided to do something about it."

That something was to buy Tel-Aviv amateur side Hapoel Kiryat Shalom for $250,000 USD and allow visitors to his website to vote on the starting line-up and the team's tactics during the game.

"Most of our surfers like the idea that they can decide what the team will do: who will be in the first 11, what formation they will play and who will be the substitutes," he continued.

Kiryat have an assistant coach who takes charge of training and prepares the sessions according to the wishes of the fans, who pick the team and formation based on statistics on the site. They use their mouse to drag numbered shirts on to a diagram of the pitch.

'This idea has no limits'
On match day, fans log in and watch the game live via a video feed. There is audio commentary for away fixtures. As the action unfolds they can use a chat facility to discuss the game and suggest tactical alterations, which are then voted on.

Sitting in the dugout, with a laptop computer and wireless internet access, the coach enacts the changes. "This is the wisdom of the crowd, not one man. It's democracy," Hogeg said. "This idea has no limits."

Although the players are amateurs in Israel's sixth division, it still cost about £250,000 to set up the plan but merchandise sales are soaring. Indeed, approximately 8,000 people have registered with the site so far.

Kiryat Shalom's matches usually attract about 100 spectators, but their first match of the season was watched by over 10,000 fans. "Most players are happy about it because of the media attention," said Hogeg. "One player who is 40 has been at the club a long time and normally would be in the starting XI but he has been voted out. He isn't very happy."

However, the team's coach Yaakov Yakhri is fairly philosophical about the club's change of direction: "It has been hard for me to accede to the wishes of the surfers but I am always willing to try new things."

With the idea clearly catching on in Israel, the creators are seeking a larger market. "Our investors are going to do the same thing in England next year," Hogeg said. "We are looking for a team, we hope in a higher league than the sixth division."

So, Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Rafael Benitez, watch out! Just as ever, thousands of fans are after your jobs, but this time they might be closer to taking it than ever before.