A wild summer

Beitar Jerusalem has finally changed ownership, and the upcoming season is likely to be full of surprises.

Beitar Jerusalem coach and players 521 (photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Beitar Jerusalem coach and players 521
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
We didn’t need this past summer to establish that there is never a dull moment at Beitar Jerusalem. However, the last few months at the club have been wild even by Beitar’s standards.
Jerusalem entered the new season with a new owner, a new front office, a new coach and a largely new squad of players. The most significant of these changes, resulting in the complete overhaul of the club, was the owner’s position.
After eight years, Arkadi Gaydamak finally relinquished his hold on the club, and Eli Tabib ultimately seized control after a typical Beitar ordeal. Following months of uncertainty and misinformation, Tabib was finally confirmed as the Beitar owner in early July, but not before the Israel Football Association and the Jerusalem District Court had their say on the matter.
Tabib and Gaydamak seemed to be on the verge of completing a deal a month earlier, before the latter caught everyone by surprise – as he has done countless times during his term at Beitar – by announcing that he had agreed to sell a 50-percent stake of the club to a group of Russian businessmen headed by Tamarlan (Tamir) Majidof.
Majidof was apparently behind Beitar’s bizarre friendly match at Terek Grozny in the Chechen capital during last season. He also helped complete the loan deals of Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev from Grozny to Jerusalem, which shook the club to its foundations after fans vehemently objected to the signing of the Muslim players.
Gaydamak claimed at the time that “it would be irresponsible of me to transfer the club to Eli Tabib.” But after the Majidof deal fell through, his representatives told judge Carmi Musak that Gaydamak had no objection to turning over the ownership to Tabib, who claimed in court that he had a right to buy the club according to a clause in an agreement Gaydamak had signed with a group of supporters last summer.
Tabib agreed to cover the club’s debts, estimated at NIS 12.5 million, for a 75% stake of the club, with the remaining 25% to be held by an organization of Beitar fans.
However, the final obstacle only fell in July, when the IFA’s Budget Control Authority ratified the purchase. The Budget Control Authority ruled that even though Tabib had yet to complete his year-long cooling-down period since selling Hapoel Tel Aviv, he could already begin to run Beitar, as the new season was just around the corner.
The authority also decided that the charges Tabib faced for attacking a minor and disruption of justice, relating to an incident outside his home last year during a protest by Hapoel fans, didn’t prohibit him from owning a club. Should he be convicted, the matter will be reevaluated.
Purchasing the club may have seemed like the main hurdle to Tabib, but he soon found out that being the boss at Beitar was not all that different from a steeplechase, with a new obstacle awaiting him at every turn.
One of his first moves was to fire chairman Itzik Kornfein, who essentially ran the club in recent years after Gaydamak lost interest. Kornfein earned the respect of many in the soccer community due to his work at Beitar under near-impossible conditions, but he became a figure of hate for the racist group of Beitar fans after he attempted to eradicate their despicable behavior from the stands.
Sacking Kornfein and bringing in former national star Haim Revivo to run matters was part of Tabib’s charm campaign to try and bring the team’s supporters back to the stadium, including the racist element.
Nevertheless, it came as something of a surprise when Revivo publicly said in several interviews that Beitar had no intention of bringing in a Muslim player, following the chaos of last season.
The signing of Kadiyev and Sadayev last season resulted in anti-Muslim xenophobia in the stands, as well as off-field protests that included the burning down of a room in the club’s offices in Bayit Vegan.
Tabib and Revivo were determined to pacify the fans, and Revivo quickly made clear that he did not want to provoke the racists, as they were not ready to accept a Muslim player.
As someone who played in Turkey for three years, Revivo should have known that such comments would not go ignored, and the State Attorney’s Office soon approached the IFA, demanding that it look into the matter and determine whether the club did indeed have such a policy.
In the meantime, Revivo has been busy rebuilding Beitar’s squad, and although he has been taking his time, his contacts in the soccer world have resulted in some impressive signings.
Beitar secured its Premier League survival only in the final weekend of last season, extending its streak in the top flight, which began back in 1992.
Tabib’s limited funds meant that Revivo had to get creative, and instead of purchasing expensive recruits, he chose to spend much of the budget on loaning players for the season.
Striker Teteh Bangura, who was once mentioned in connection with a move to Manchester United, and Venezuelan defender Andres Tunez, who played for Celta Vigo in Spain’s top division, are on paper two of the better foreign players to arrive in the Israeli Premier League this summer.
Revivo has also brought in promising midfielder Sintiyahu Salalik on a loan deal from Maccabi Haifa, and with homegrown talents like Ariel Harush, Eli Dasa and Ofir Kriaf all continuing at the club, new coach Eli Cohen has got a promising squad to work with after having few options in his first few weeks at the helm.
After selling no more than a couple of hundred season tickets prior to the start of the campaign, Tabib’s and Revivo’s plan looks to be working, as around 2,500 supporters have bought season tickets since.
Israeli soccer as a whole is worse off due to Tabib’s decision to throw in the white towel in the battle against racism, but his only concern was to settle the ship at Beitar, and he has achieved that, at least for the time being.
One thing is for sure, however: When it comes to Beitar, you should expect the unexpected – meaning 2013/14 promises to be yet another roller-coaster season.