Riding for a fall?

While the club and the authorities are finally taking a stand against the anti-Muslim xenophobia among Beitar fans, no one seems to have any answer to the team’s struggles on the field.

Beitar Jerusalem's Dominik Glavina 370 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Beitar Jerusalem's Dominik Glavina 370
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Beitar Jerusalem always knew that the signing of two Muslim players wouldn’t pass by quietly. However, when owner Arkadi Gaydamak, chair- man Itzik Kornfein and coach Eli Cohen made the decision to bring in Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev from Chechen club Terek Grozny, they surely never imagined it would prove to be so costly.
No one can put a figure on the damage caused to the club’s reputation around the world following the racist chants by a faction of its supporters, the raising of banners reading “Beitar pure forever” and the burning down of part of the team’s headquarters in Bayit Vagan.
However, while the club and the authorities, including the police and the prosecution, are finally taking a stand against the anti-Muslim xenophobia in the hope of eradicating it once and for all with a meticulous plan, no one seems to have any answer to the team’s strug- gles on the field.
Since Gaydamak announced the arrival of Kadiyev and Sadayev four weeks ago, Beitar has looked like a shad- ow of its former self, picking up just a single point out of a possible 12 from four matches.
Beitar climbed up to fourth place in the Premier League standings four weeks ago with a memorable 2-0 win at Hapoel Tel Aviv, extending its unbeaten streak to eight matches. However, the friction between the club and its fans, as well as among the opposing groups of support- ers, has completely derailed the team.
Hapoel Haifa may have entered Sunday’s showdown against Beitar at Kiryat Eliezer Stadium at the bottom of the standings, but it easily outplayed Jerusalem in a 3-0 win. Despite the defeat, Beitar remained in seventh position, two points behind Hapoel Ramat Hasharon in sixth. However, while in many leagues there is little difference between sixth or seventh place, for Beitar it is almost a matter of life and death.
After two rounds of play and a total of 26 matches, the league will be split into two sections. The top six teams will play each other twice more (10 matches in total) to decide the champion, while the bottom eight teams will play once more against each other (seven matches in total) to determine the relegation battle.
Failure to reach the championship play- offs would cost the financially stricken Beitar millions of shekels, as it would deny it big pay days against the league’s top sides. A top-six finish at the end of the regular season would likely guaran- tee the club a full Teddy Stadium for mouthwatering showdowns against Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv, with each of those matches worth almost NIS 1 million in income for the club. However, what once seemed like a foregone conclusion is now looking extremely improbable.
Victories in its final three regular sea- son contests will in all likelihood guar- antee Beitar a top-six finish, but consid- ering its recent form and its remaining schedule, it is hard to see how it will tri- umph in more than a single encounter at best.
Jerusalem visits high-flying Maccabi Haifa, which has won 11 of its past 13 matches, this coming Sunday before hosting the struggling Maccabi Netanya and ending its regular season matches at Maccabi Tel Aviv, the ram- pant league leader. Nevertheless, coach Cohen did his best to remain upbeat regarding his team’s chances, despite speaking only minutes after the disas- trous display against Hapoel Haifa.
“Had we won this match, we would have almost secured our place in the championship playoffs,” a frustrated Cohen told the media following Sunday’s drubbing. “I still believe we have a chance, but we will now have to get the job done in some of the tough- est matches imaginable.”
Cohen admirably took the blame on himself for the team’s recent showings but admitted that the unrest that has accompanied the addition of the Chechens has had a lasting negative impact on his players.
“We have played below our regular level in the past month,” said Cohen.
“Even in the first month of the season, when we had a real hard time winning, we played better than this. This isn’t Beitar Jerusalem. We are playing with- out soul. I’m responsible for this situa- tion, and I’ll get the team out of it.
There is no such thing as bad soldiers, only bad commanders.”
Despite the team’s slide down the standings and the strong probability that it will miss the championship playoffs, Cohen said he didn’t regret the decision to bring in Kadiyev and Sadayev.
“Clearly, this whole situation is tough for the players,” he said. “However, there is little point in talking about it now. We need to find a solution for it, and that is my job. We made a decision, and that is that. It is all behind us now.
It’s water under the bridge.”
So dire is Beitar’s current financial sit- uation that the millions of shekels it is set to miss out on – should it indeed fail to qualify for the championship playoffs – would have an almost destructive bearing on next season’s team.
As things stand, it seems all but impossible that Beitar will achieve the goal it set itself at the start of the sea- son. Its recent lackluster performances and the ongoing turmoil in the stands give the team little reason for optimism.
The players also seem to have lost all hope, with Beitar’s star this season, Eran Levy, sounding like he doesn’t even believe the words coming out of his own mouth when he spoke to jour- nalists following the defeat to Haifa.
“We are going through a rough peri- od, but we brought this on ourselves, and we will need to find a way to end this slump,” said Levy. “Clearly, this is a serious crisis.
Our goal was to reach the championship playoffs, and I don’t even want to think of the possibility that we won’t. We have three difficult matches coming up, and we will have to do things differently or we will find our- selves in the relegation battle.”