Alona Barkat bails on Hapoel Beersheba

Once-beloved owner leaves soccer club’s helm after players reject salary reduction plan

ALONA BARKAT had plenty of good times as the owner of Hapoel Beersheba (photo credit: DANNY MARON)
ALONA BARKAT had plenty of good times as the owner of Hapoel Beersheba
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
The Israel soccer world was rocked on Sunday when Hapoel Beersheba owner Alona Barkat walked away from the club after 14 years at the helm of the franchise.
The move sent shockwaves throughout the sports establishment across the Holy Land as one of the most successful teams this past decade couldn’t come to terms with the players on a salary reduction plan due to the coronavirus, which is affecting economies around the globe.
“This is a sad day for me,” said Barkat in a statement released by the club. “I did my best to formulate an emergency plan to save the club due to the current crisis, but the players’ unwillingness to join together with management leaves me no other option. I sincerely thank the club, the fans, the coaches and the players for a wonderful 14 years and wish the club success down the road.”
Barkat – married to the brother of Nir Barkat – became the first woman to own a soccer team in Israel when she purchased the club in 2007 as it languished in the second division, but after just a couple of seasons the outfit was promoted to the Premier League and has been there ever since.
With a special emphasis placed on the youth department, educational activities, and community connection the Southern Reds won their first of three straight league championships in 2016.
On Sunday, the management rights were transferred by Barkat to attorney Itzhak Younger after the players refused to cut their wages, effectively rejecting the club’s emergency plan to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. Barkat will meet all of her financial commitments until the end of season.
Asi Rahamim, the club’s chief executive officer and former goalkeeper also spoke the team losing its owner.
“This is a sad day for the club and a particularly sad day for me,” said Rahamim. “We had a lot of memorable moments over the last 14 years thanks to Alona Barkat’s huge contribution. It is very disappointing that despite Alona’s desire to continue to invest in the club during the tremendous crisis we are currently facing, the emergency plan was designed to provide the club with the tools to continue to feature in Israeli football in the years to come – has not been agreed upon by everyone.”
The emergency plan was designed to address the expected losses in the current season and in the next campaign due to the whole country being currently paralyzed. 
As part of the plan, Barkat had pledged to provide a safety net of NIS 20 million from her own pocket for next season. At the same time, an agreement needed to be consummated in which the players’ and club employees’ wages would be cut by 30%. As well, those players who earn under a certain threshold would not be affected by the cuts.
In addition, the plan had a clause that allowed for the return of the players and employees reduced wages should there be excess income following the next season.
Beersheba mayor Ruvik Danilovich expressed his disappointment and also had offered to mediate between the parties.
“I was very surprised to receive a phone call from Alona Barkat, who informed me of the transfer of the team to a trustee, after she said she had made every effort to promote a club recovery program due to the severe global crisis that is plaguing us,” said Danilovich. “I offered to help to mediate, but unfortunately I was told that the decision made was final. I am very sorry and so sad! Right now, we’re all busy saving lives!”
Premier League chairman Erez Kalfon also weighed in.
“I was very sorry to hear the announcement about Alona Barkat’s departure from Beersheba,” said Kalfon. “This is a great loss to Israeli football and Hapoel Beersheba especially after guiding the club to great sporting achievements. The whole world is currently undergoing a major health economic crisis and the players should have embraced Alona’s plan to save the club. I intend to do everything I can to get her to reverse her decision.”
Other clubs in Israeli soccer are also facing similar issues as each team is making cuts in various fashions.
Maccabi Haifa cut its players’ wages by 31%, Maccabi Netanya has decided to go with a 50% cut, while Maccabi Tel Aviv, Bnei Yehuda, Beitar Jerusalem and others will be reducing salaries as well by at least 20%.
Hapoel Haifa, Ness Ziona, Hapoel Kfar Saba, Hapoel Ra’anana, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Ashdod SC have either furloughed their players and employees or are looking into that option plus a pay cut as well.
The next few weeks will be pivotal for the clubs as there will be a push to restart the league in mid-May and play out the balance of the season potentially in empty stadiums if the health situation allows.