It has become part of the Israeli summer almost as much as the stifling heat and humidity. A protracted transfer saga that creates endless debate among soccer fans, often regarding a player who is worth neither the inflated fee paid for him nor the column inches wasted on every twist and turn of the melodrama.
This summer’s ordeal was arguably the most ridiculous ever, involving a 21-year-old player of significant potential, but who is still very much an unproven commodity.
One shouldn’t feel bad if this is the first time he is hearing of Ben Reichert.
After all, many ardent soccer fans would have failed to point him out in a lineup just a year ago.
Not any more, with Reichert becoming for many a symbol of all that is wrong with the modern soccer player-diva.
Only Olympic gymnasts can rival the amount of back-flips Reichert has attempted in recent months before finally completing his move from Maccabi Tel Aviv to Hapoel Tel Aviv on Tuesday.
Hapoel will pay Maccabi one million euros for the midfielder, a year after the yellow-and-blue brought him over from Ironi Ramat Hasharon for a fifth of that amount and signed him to a fouryear contract.
Everyone seems to be delighted with the deal.
“I’m excited and delighted to sign and be part of Hapoel Tel Aviv,” said Reichert. “This is a realization of a dream for me. Now it is time to work hard. Only Hapoel!” New Hapoel owner Amir Kabiri said that the club decided to act as soon as the opportunity to sign Reichert presented itself.
“Ben is a true Red and I’m delighted that we have brought him back home,” explained Kabiri.
Maccabi also insisted that it is more than satisfied with the transfer after being dragged to arbitration by Reichert.
“Maccabi accepted the offer presented to it for Ben Reichert, an offer which we are very pleased with,” a Maccabi statement read.
Reading the reactions to the deal, one may well wonder why it was necessary to arrive at a point where Reichert found himself sobbing and pleading to the arbitrator last week to allow him to leave Maccabi for Hapoel.
With agents, lawyers and two powerful clubs pulling in opposite directions, it was only to be expected that Reichert would eventually snap.
He finally got his wish on Tuesday, but not before making virtually every mistake in the book and giving every aspiring soccer player a lesson of how not to act.
In March 2014, Maccabi announced that it had reached a deal with Ramat Hasharon for Reichert’s services. The midfielder was in the midst of a breakthrough season after joining the club from Maccabi Haifa’s youth department.
Reichert received a hostile welcome from a small minority of the Maccabi fans after they had discovered he was a big Hapoel fan growing up.
A Hapoel song he posted on his Facebook page when he was 16 became a topic of discussion and resulted in constant jeers from some yellow-and-blue supporters.
It was clear from the start that Reichert was brought aboard as a longterm project, and he only made five appearances for the club before being sent to Hapoel Tel Aviv on a five-month loan in February of this year as part of the deal that saw Gili Vermouth join the yellow-and-blue.
Knowing Reichert’s history, Maccabi sporting director Jordi Cruyff should have never agreed to send him to Hapoel.
Almost inevitably, Reichert was welcomed with suspicion by Hapoel fans, before ultimately winning them over with his performances on the field. He made 10 appearances for Hapoel and helped the club avoid relegation. However, as his status at Hapoel grew, his chances of making a smooth return to Maccabi at the end of the loan deal dramatically shrunk, leaving him in limbo.
Once unheard of, it has become a regular occurrence for players to leave Maccabi for Hapoel and vice-versa despite the animosity between the two sets of supporters. However, moving back-and-forth between the clubs is almost unprecedented.
In late June, lawyer Yossi Sperling said in a radio interview that his client doesn’t want to play for Maccabi. Later that day, the yellow-and-blue released a short video in which Reichert said he had no lawyer.
Just two days later, Reichert didn’t show up at Maccabi’s training session and stopped answering calls from the club. He released a statement reading: “I need a few days of peace in order to decide my future. I will not travel with the team to its training camp.”
Soon after, he contacted Maccabi and asked that the club set a fee for his release and allow him to leave for Hapoel. Three weeks ago, Sperling and lawyer Boaz Ben-Zur approached the Israel Football Association requesting arbitration.
Reichert sent a public letter to Maccabi owner Mitch Goldhar, writing: “I don’t want to move because of money or because of professional reasons. In the past 12 months my life has changed dramatically. I’m threatened on a daily basis. On the phone, in text messages, on the street and in social networks. I feel like I’m being played with like a toy.”
In the first day of arbitration, Reichert was asked if he was willing to return to Maccabi and he said he would rather retire. He broke down in tears when he gave his testimony later in the week and on Friday he asked agent Avi Nimni to see if he could try and find a compromise between the clubs before the arbitrator, Amiel Tager, came to his decision.
After several days of meetings and phone calls, the clubs agreed on the one million euro transfer fee, bringing the needless saga to a close.
Reichert will be under extreme pressure to prove he was worth the fuss.
However, that looks to be a daunting mission considering the countless hours in which his situation was dissected on the different media outlets throughout the country.
Sadly, Reichert’s career will likely be remembered for this summer’s transfer saga far more than anything he achieves on the field. An immature pawn in a game played well above his head, Reichert has learned his lesson. Hopefully, so has every other up-and-coming soccer talent in the country.