Does anyone want the championship?

Gaydamak was at the end of his tether on Saturday night. And rightly so.

By JEREMY LAST
January 22, 2007 01:57
3 minute read.
gaydamak 298.88

gaydamak 298.88. (photo credit: Allon Sinai)

It is indeed the tightest Premier League race in years. But unfortunately not because of the excess of high-quality soccer teams in Israel. On the contrary, the level of soccer is causing many supporters to pull their hair out with desperation. Not least Arkadi Gaydamak, whose Betar Jerusalem appears to be imploding just when it has the title in its grasp. And to see former champion Maccabi Haifa, the team which won the league comfortably last season, fall apart and hardly look like scoring in its loss to Hakoah Amidar Ramat Gan a couple of days ago was nearly surreal. Gaydamak was at the end of his tether on Saturday night. And rightly so. Things just aren't going as planned at Betar. Having seen the team he has pumped millions of shekels into put in a weak, lackluster performance against Maccabi Netanya at Teddy Stadium last weekend, Gaydamak made his disappointment very clear. He expected only 100-percent effort and he expects the league title. Considering Betar was at top of the league at the time, despite the dropped points, it wasn't a completely unacceptable thing to ask. But somehow this did not transmit to the players, who then went on to lose 2-1 to Bnei Yehuda in the Toto Cup on Tuesday with the week culminating in an embarrassing loss at second-from-bottom Maccabi Herzliya on Saturday night. Standing in a rainy, windy Herzliya Stadium after Saturday's loss, Gaydamak could be forgiven for being a little upset, but he needs to understand that the situation is of his own making. "All the people we gave confidence to play for Betar and maintain the prestige of this... Jerusalem team, they are completely irresponsible," he whined. "But what can I do?" Gaydamak continued, appearing to finally be doing some soul-searching. He then raised his voice to be heard over the shouts of "Bezayon" (embarrassment) coming from a group of visiting supporters. "What else can I do? I can not change nothing. What can I change? All those people are thinking about their contract, about their salary, What can I do?" What poor Mr. Gaydamak should have done was gain a better understanding of soccer before he went and bought the most passionately supported team in Israel. He is correct to admit that he can't make any more changes. Because the problem is that the Russian billionaire businessman has made way too many rash decisions in recent months. Perhaps both former coach Ossie Ardiles and departed chairman Vladimir Shklar did need to be replaced. But his appointment of Yossi Mizrahi as first team coach and former policeman Eli Arazi as chairman were clearly the wrong choices. Now he is stuck with a coach who doesn't have the confidence to inspire his team, a chairman who knows nothing about soccer and a group of players who, apart from passionate Betar fan Yoav Ziv, are putting little effort into what they should be doing - winning matches. The one thing players at the richest club in the country, who are being paid astronomical amounts, should not do is complain about pressure. And one man who definitely shouldn't is the coach. But time and again Mizrahi explains that he and the players are under pressure and he is going to sort it out. Well, Yossi should have realized from the start that there would be pressure and if he and the players can't deal with it, then they should never have agreed to work for Gaydamak in the first place. As for Maccabi Haifa, there is little doubt that Roni Levy has been unable to replace the players that left last season. Watching Xavier Dirceo and Haim Magrashvili come to blows in the league win over Hapoel Tel Aviv last week was bad enough. And then for Nir Davidovitch, Israel's number two goalkeeper, to be sent off for headbutting in the Toto Cup draw with Hapoel Petah Tikva last week was entirely unacceptable. Both incidents are symptomatic of the frustration with Haifa's poor performances this season. While Maccabi Haifa is out of the title race, if Betar continues like this, it will also be likely to drop too many points to have a chance of winning the league, leaving only Hapoel Tel Aviv or even city rival Maccabi as the lucky recipients of the other teams' demises. [email protected]


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