(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Israeli Premier League champion Betar Jerusalem's preparations for the 2007/08 season got officially underway on Wednesday afternoon with the team's first training session held in front of some 5,000 supporters.
Earlier in the day new coach Yitzhak Schum and consultant to club chairmen, Giora Spiegel, spoke of their plans and goals for the coming season, revealing that the club is in negotiation with two world-renowned strikers.
"We want to sign Argentinian Martin Palermo from Boca Juniors and Savo Milosevic from Osasuna," Spiegel said at a pre-season press conference on Wednesday. "We're still negotiating with both of them and will announce any development."
Palermo, 33, who is currently in his second spell at Boca, visited Israel last summer when the Argentinian league champion played against Maccabi Tel Aviv in a friendly match.
Serbia international Milosevic, 33, made his name during three years at English club Aston Villa where he played from 1995 to 1998.
Spiegel, who as a player led the Israel national team to the 1970 World Cup and as a coach guided Maccabi Haifa to the league title in the 1993/94 season, couldn't hide his excitement at returning to an active post in Israeli soccer after years of self-imposed exile.
"I'm thrilled to be back in the game," he said. "I spent most of my life playing and coaching and I haven't forgotten all the things that made me so successful at this game. This is a very special club and it was very important for me to be here."
Schum, who was Spiegel's captain in Israel's 1970 World Cup side, wasn't shy about the team's biggest goal next season.
"We have a lot of challenges ahead of us, with the first being qualification for the Champions League group stage. I've coached in the group stage three times during my career and I hope to pass on the knowledge I've acquired to my players.
"I'm very happy and proud to be in Jerusalem. I've been through a lot as a coach and as a player and I can honestly say that one of the places I've always wanted to coach at is Jerusalem."
One of most urgent tasks facing Schum and Spiegel is finding a new goalkeeper to replace retired captain Itzik Korenfein. The 35-year-old, who started in goal for Betar the last 12 seasons, announced his retirement from active play on Tuesday after being told he will not be the team's first choice keeper next season.
"Spiegel and Schum arrived at the club and they told me they would like to bring in a foreign goalie. That is their professional opinion and it's a legitimate one," Korenfein said.
Korenfein, who will continue working at Betar as the club's CEO, claimed that he is not frustrated at having to retire, despite originally planning to play on.
"As soon as I understood that I will not be playing, I decided to make the most respectful decision for me and the club," he said. "I wasn't interested in sitting on the bench for the entire season and decided that it would be better to retire.
"This is very difficult for me, but I had no choice and had to take this step. I always said that I will never play anywhere but Betar, and I'm standing by that decision."
Jerusalem fans were furious with Korenfein's retirement and demonstrated against Schum's and Spiegel's decision during the team's first training session on Wednesday.
Schum, who named former Betar defender Sergei Tartiak as his assistant on Wednesday, tried to calm the fans and assured them that the side will be ready for next season.
"Money is the name of the game and to compete in Europe we will need to spend the kind of amounts spent by European sides," he said. "There's no need to worry. By the time we go on our training camp we will have a new goalkeeper and several more new players."