(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Following a dramatic final day to the Premier League transfer window, the action is back on the field this weekend, with a host of players having to adjust to a new team while others try and overcome the insult of being unsuccessfully shopped by their clubs.
The highlight of deadline day was Gili Vermouth’s surprise transfer from Hapoel Tel Aviv to Maccabi Tel Aviv, just one day after the arch-rivals met in the derby.
The 29-year-old Israel international had been connected with a move to Maccabi since the summer. However, it had seemed that he wouldn’t be leaving Hapoel until the end of the season before the clubs surprisingly finalized a deal in the last day of the transfer window on Tuesday.
Hapoel received 700,000 euros for Vermouth, as well as Ben Reichert and Sean Goldberg on loan free of charge until the end of the season and additional options to loan Maccabi players in 2015/16.
Vermouth held his first training session at Maccabi on Thursday and could make his debut when the yellow-and-blue visits Maccabi Netanya on Sunday.
Maccabi established itself as a firm favorite to claim a third straight championship over recent weeks even before strengthening its squad with Vermouth, opening a four-point gap over Ironi Kiryat Shmona with Monday’s comfortable 2-0 win over Hapoel.
Maccabi has been clinical if not impressive in recent matches, keeping its seventh successive clean sheet on Monday to extend its unbeaten run to 11 matches with its 10th victory from the past 13 games.
“This feels strange but I’m sure I will get used to it in a day or two,” was all Vermouth agreed to say on Thursday.
Coach Pako Ayestaran insisted on Thursday that Vermouth will have to fight for his place in the team just like any other player on the squad.
“If he is here, it is because he is good for Maccabi. We expect him to add to the team and the squad,” he said. “The past is nothing. He will have to prove himself from today. When you arrive at Maccabi you know the competitiveness is of a high level and he is not going to get anything he doesn’t deserve.”
After spending more than three consecutive months in first place, Ironi Kiryat Shmona’s title challenge has been derailed in recent weeks, with Barak Bachar’s team picking up just four points from its past four matches following a 3-1 at Beitar Jerusalem on Sunday.
Kiryat Shmona can close within one point of Maccabi for at least 24 hours with a win over Hapoel Petah Tikva on Saturday. Kiryat Shmona and Maccabi will meet in the first leg of the State Cup quarterfinals next Wednesday before facing off in a crucial league encounter the following Monday.
Shimon Abu Hazeira returned to the club on a loan deal from Maccabi Haifa on deadline day and is set to play against Petah Tikva.
The transfer of Vermouth only exacerbated the turmoil at the floundering Hapoel Tel Aviv. Matters have gone from bad to worse since the departure of manager Eyal Berkovic two weeks ago and the sacking of coach Asi Domb.
The team has continued to falter on the pitch under the guidance of new coach Eli Cohen while a power struggle to control the club is taking place in the background. The HaAdumim (The Reds) fans association is in negotiations to take over the club from current owner Haim Ramon, who insisted the sale of Vermouth was crucial for the financial and professional future of Hapoel.
With just a single win from its past 11 matches, Hapoel is a mere four points off the relegation zone ahead of Saturday’s match against Hapoel Ra’anana at Bloomfield Stadium. Ra’anana has won four straight games without conceding a goal.
Ra’anana’s most significant move on deadline day was retaining the services of Nigerian Anthony Nwakaeme. The 25-year-old was on his way to Hapoel Beersheba before the deal fell through at the last moment.
Beersheba was also on the verge of bringing in Israel national team goalkeeper Ofir Martziano from Ashdod SC, with current stopper Austin Ejide and defender Tomislav Pajovic meant to leave the club as part of a three-team transfer.
However, the deal never materialized and Ejide and Pajovic will have to somehow brush aside the knowledge that they were used as trading chips earlier this week.
“I’m sorry about the way things unfolded, but this happens in soccer,” said Beersheba coach Elisha Levy.
“There was a good opportunity to bring in an excellent player like Nwakaeme and we did all we could to sign him. I was transparent with my players and I had a good talk with Pajovic and Ejide. They are professional players and will do their best for the club.”
Beersheba is eight points adrift of Maccabi Tel Aviv and visits Ashdod SC on Saturday.
Also Saturday, Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts Bnei Sakhnin, while Israel national team striker Itay Shechter is set to make his debut for the struggling Maccabi Haifa when it visits rock-bottom Hapoel Acre.
On Monday, Hapoel Haifa welcomes Beitar Jerusalem. Beitar was handed back a point after its appeal to the Israel Football Association regarding the punishment leveled at the team for its fans’ unruly and racist behavior was partially accepted.