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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Former French international Luis Fernandez was unveiled as the new general manager of Betar Jerusalem on Wednesday, in the latest move by billionaire Russian owner Arkadi Gaydamak.
Fernandez, 46, was part of the French national team which won the 1984 European championships. He gave up a coaching job at Qatar club Al Rayyan to move to Israel. His coaching career highlight was taking Paris Saint Germain to the European Cup Winners Cup title in 1996.
Fernandez's job will be a new position, created to strengthen the club and its international image.
The Frenchman will work above recently appointed Dutchman Ton Caanen, who was brought in as firstteam coach last month, and Caanen's assistant Guy Azuri.
Speaking at a packed press conference at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, Gaydamak explained the new structure. "The Betar team needs a professional and international figure. That is why we brought over someone with such experience and world pedigree," Gaydamak said.
There had been rumors that Caanen would leave Betar if Fernandez was appointed, even though Caanen appears to have inspired the Jerusalem team, which has won its last four games.
But in an attempt to ally these concerns, Fernandez said: "I am happy to be in Jerusalem and to meet the players. I am not coming here to take anyone's job. I am coming to take a job which does not exist. I am trying to bring my experience to Betar, to overlook the team and take Betar as far as possible."
He explained that his job will give him control over the entire club and made clear his interest in the youth and junior teams, as well as the senior players.
And Fernandez, who worked with former Betar midfielder Tal Banin when Banin played for Cannes and Fenandez was coach, said he sees great potential in Israeli football.
Caanen himself said he would have had no qualms about leaving Betar if he thought his authority was under threat. But he said he believes that Gaydamak has faith in him to lead the first team and Fernandez will not be stepping on his toes.
The Dutchman has quickly become popular with both the Betar fans and the Israeli media and said he intends to continue his work in helping the "empire return" to Jerusalem.
"For me the only thing that is important is to work," Caanen said. "If I have a feeling I can't work like I want to then I will go. I am only here for myself, to work with Guy Azuri and to fulfill the dreams of the fans - the empire must come back.
"We are very happy with our start and with the people of Israel," Caanen added. "Mr. Gaydamak has given me all confidence to work with Guy Azuri. I am very pleased to see Mr. Gaydamak has brought Luis Fernandez to Betar and I hope his experience as a coach and a player can help Betar."
With all Gaydamak's reported $3 billion wealth, there has been talk of big name players moving to Betar in the January transfer window, the latest rumor being of former France and Chelsea captain Marcel Desailly coming to Jerusalem. In fact, the team's fan club Web site ran a story claiming that Desailly will arrive this weekend and attend Betar's home game on Saturday against Hapoel Petah Tikva.
But Gaydamak refused to give credence to the rumors and placed the responsibility for requesting new players on the heads of Caanen and Azuri.
Gaydamak said: "It will be their decision. If they think it is necessary to ask football players to come to join us then we will examine the financial and organizational aspects. If the decision will be to ask new players to join the team then we will do it."
The players themselves spoke of their excitement at the new feeling at the club.
Winger Barak Yitzhaki told The Jerusalem Post: "All the time we have been talking about the new coach coming and we are all very excited." Striker Lior Asulin, who scored a hat trick in the win against Ashdod SC last weekend, added: "It is a very big change. I know there are very good plans and I hope it will be good for Betar."