Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eran Zahavi.
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Eran Zahavi completed his record move to Chinese club Guangzhou R&F on Wednesday, bringing to an end the protracted transfer saga and leaving behind a massive void Maccabi Tel Aviv will struggle to fill.
Maccabi will receive $8 million for Zahavi, the most lucrative transfer ever involving an Israeli club. The 28-year-old will earn an estimated $12.5 million over the next two-and-a-half years, as well as a $20,000 bonus for each goal he scores.
Zahavi's move to Guangzhou, which is currently in 11th place out of 16 teams after 15 matches, looked to be all but complete two weeks ago when the clubs agreed on the transfer fee.
However, with his trip to China being delayed by visa and contractual issues until Sunday, Maccabi made Zahavi an improved offer and he was considering not boarding his flight to Guangzhou. He eventually decided to make the trip after Maccabi refused to meet all of his demands, and after being impressed with what he saw in China, he made the move official on Wednesday.
"Today I start a new chapter in my career," wrote Zahavi on Instagram alongside a photo of himself in a Maccabi shirt. "I decided to post a photo of myself in a Maccabi Tel Aviv shirt because the first thing I want to do is to thank the club for the most amazing and beautiful three-and-a-half years of my career." Zahavi went on to thank his family, teammates, Maccabi owner Mitch Goldhar, sports director Jordi Cruyff and the club's fans before promising that he will one day return to Maccabi.
It is difficult to overstate Zahavi’s importance to Maccabi since joining in January of 2013. He has led the Premier League in scoring in each of the past three seasons, breaking the 61-year-old record for goals in a season with 35 last term. He won three championships and one State Cup in three-and-a-half seasons with the yellow-and-blue, while almost single-handedly leading the team to the Champions League group stage last season.
"Firstly a big thank you to Eran for the 3.5 amazing years at Maccabi Tel Aviv," said Cruyff, who is also rumored to be on his way out of the club. "Hard work and ambition always pays off and should be a lesson to everyone. We are all saddened by Eran’s departure and will miss him greatly. I wish him all the best and hope that one day he will come home to Maccabi again." Maccabi already begins its 2016/17 campaign, and life without Zahavi, on Thursday when it hosts ND Gorica of Slovenia in the first leg of the first round of the Europa League qualifiers, a far cry from the meetings with Chelsea, Porto and Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League group stage last season. The second leg will be played in Slovenia next week.
Should Maccabi advance it will play the winner of the tie between KS Teuta of Albania and Kairat Almaty of Kazakhstan.
Thursday's match in Netanya, which will be Maccabi's home stadium over the next two seasons due to the rebuilding of Bloomfield Stadium, will see new coach Shota Arveladze make his official debut on the sidelines. The 43-year-old Georgian, who starred as a player at Ajax and Rangers, has spent most of his coaching career in Turkey. He had been out of work since being fired by Trabzonspor last November following just four months at the helm. Arveladze, who replaced Peter Bosz following his departure for Ajax, is the sixth coach appointed by Cruyff since his arrival in the summer of 2012.
Elsewhere Thursday, Beitar Jerusalem also opens its Europa League campaign when it visits Sloboda Tuzla of Bosnia in the first leg of the first qualifying round in what will be new coach Ran Ben-Shimon's debut. Beitar hosts the return leg next week. Should Beitar reach the second qualifying round it will face either Banants of Armenia or Omonia Nicosia of Cyprus.