Maccabi Netanya seemingly has everything a club would need to succeed.
A triumphant tradition, a state-ofthe- art stadium and a large fan base are enjoyed by very few clubs in Israeli soccer, but Netanya is among them.
So how on earth has Netanya failed so miserably this season? Not only has the team been relegated to the National League, but it has done so after one of the worst campaigns in Premier League history, collapsing both on and off the pitch in a manner that has cast a serious doubt over the club’s prospects of bouncing back in the near future.
With debts estimated at NIS 15 million and no realistic solution to settle them, Netanya is in danger of going into administration. It seems that everyone involved have washed their hands of the club that once upon a time dominated local soccer and was the pride of the city.
The club’s employees discovered on Tuesday that their phones had been disconnected due to an unpaid NIS 3,000 bill. Both they and the players could lose their leased cars next. The security company that is in charge of keeping the peace at the team’s matches is threatening not to send any staff to Sunday’s encounter with Hapoel Tel Aviv, a mandatory requirement without which the match won’t be able to go ahead.
Unsurprisingly, Netanya’s bankruptcy off the pitch has coincided with its capitulation on it.
Netanya was officially relegated on Saturday following a 2-0 loss at Ironi Kiryat Shmona. With a single win from 28 matches to date this season and an overall success rate of 13.09 percent, Netanya is currently on course for the third-worst season in Israeli soccer history.
Only Maccabi Yaffo of the 1998/99 campaign and Beitar Netanya in 1986/87 experienced a worse season in the top flight. Netanya has scored just 11 goals, a rate of 0.39 goals per game, which would be the second worst all-time.
It is currently on its fifth coach this season, with Shlomi Dora being replaced by Reuven Atar in November and Menahem Koretzki taking charge in January. Guy Tzarfati and Omer Peretz have also both filled the role on an interim basis, with the latter currently in charge.
Koretzki followed chairman Doron Osidon out of the club, writing to the Netanya Municipality last week that due to the current uncertainty and Osidon’s departure he has decided to quit.
Osidon was handed the keys to the club by the municipality after it failed to attract serious investors.
Netanya’s downfall can be traced back to the departure of owner Eli Segev in late 2014, leaving the club without a solid financial base.
Segev’s personal financial difficulties saw Netanya players go without salaries for several months and little, if anything, has improved since he left.
Netanya players went on strike last May, boycotting the scheduled training session after not being paid their salaries for two months.
“This is a sad day,” said Netanya’s coach at the time Roni Levy. “I don’t remember anything like this ever happening in Israeli soccer. I hope something changes over the next few days.”
Nothing has changed in almost a year, with the players considered striking last week after not receiving their salaries for the month of February.
They eventually decided there was no point as so few people actually seemed to care.
Netanya’s moves in the January transfer window indicated the direction in which the club was heading, with 12 players leaving the team, including arguably its three most talented players in Romario Pires, Aaron Schoenfeld and Hamza Barry.
However, Osidon’s garage sale was not enough to save the club, which reportedly needs around NIS 6 million to end the season without going into liquidation.
The Netanya municipality is currently holding back NIS 1.9 million it promised the club, but even should it decide to transfer the funds, additional assistance is required in order to keep afloat a team that won five championships in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the last of which in 1983.
The municipality may well be waiting for the courts to intervene and send the club into administration, with tempers flaring at a meeting to discuss the future of the team at the office of Mayor Miriam Feirberg Ikar last Thursday.
Feirberg Ikar reportedly threatened to reveal how the club had been mismanaged over recent years, while also fuming at Israeli business magnate Yitzhak Tshuva, who according to the mayor has not lived up to his promise to donate NIS 1 million to the club.
Feirberg Ikar is fed up with having to come to the club’s rescue time and again, but the truth of the matter is that she has little choice.
The municipality has no business in running the club in the long run, but Netanya has no other options in the short term.
Its existence is under serious threat, and while some may think that administration or liquidation is the answer, few clubs have managed to survive after going down that path.
It may well be a coincidence that three-time defending champion Maccabi Tel Aviv announced earlier this week that it will host its home matches at the Municipal Stadium in Netanya next season due to the closure of Bloomfield for renovations over the next three years.
However, it was quite appropriate that in a week that Netanya was relegated to the National League and with its fate up in the air, it also saw its home stadium being leased out to a far richer and far successful rival.
Netanya will still be able to play its home matches there next season as second division action takes place on Friday, while Premier League games are played on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
The question is, will Maccabi Netanya still exist by the start of next season, and if it does, what kind of team will it be able to field? There seem to be few, if any, reasons for optimism.