Mike Stowell’s professional reunion with Robbie Keane continues to be a successful one, albeit also problematic and highly unusual.
Their club, Maccabi Tel Aviv, remain locked in a challenging and depressing break in league fixtures and are clinging to their progress in the Europa Conference League as a token grip on normality.
Games in Israel are suspended indefinitely because of the war but the European campaign is at least providing a focal point for the players and the management team Keane assembled in the summer.
Maccabi had gone five weeks without playing since the since the conflict broke out in early October and the head coach and his backroom colleagues are already back home following the fleeting return to action last Thursday.
By a sad coincidence, their latest opponents were another displaced team, Zorya Luhansk from Ukraine, and three goals without reply in the first half set Keane’s men up for a 3-1 victory that kept them second in group B.
The game was played in Poland, where the Maccabi squad had a ten-day training camp to shake off their rustiness. They return to the country to play the return against Zorya a week on Saturday and then have a trip to Iceland to face Breidablik five days later.
The Europa Conference League has happy memories for Stowell, who was part of the backroom team when Leicester reached the semi-final of the competition in 2021-22 before narrowly losing over two legs to Roma.
He also revelled in a journey to the last eight of the Champions League after the East Midlanders’ astonishing Premier League title triumph in 2015-16.
Football life was again going swimmingly at the start of this season for he and Keane, who were Wolves team-mates for two years at opposite ends of the pitch in the late 1990s.
Maccabi were three points clear at the top of Israel’s premier division when a halt was called after five matches and had also made smooth domestic-cup progress.
In Europe, they have won two games out of three in their group since coming through three knockout rounds with flying colours at the start of Keane’s reign.
Their only defeat was 2-0 away to clear group leaders Gent just before the war broke out.