Local Soccer: Maccabi Tel Aviv adds key piece in Atzili; more moves ahead?

“I grew up here at Maccabi and began as an eight-year old and was at the club until I was 16."

Beitar Jerusalem midfielder Omer Atzili (photo credit: ERAN LUF)
Beitar Jerusalem midfielder Omer Atzili
(photo credit: ERAN LUF)
The rebuilding at Maccabi Tel Aviv continued on Wednesday, with the yellow-and-blue winning the race for the signature of one of the hottest commodities in the market by adding Omer Atzili on a four-year deal.
The signing of Atzili capped a hectic week both on and off the field for Maccabi, which is desperate to bounce back from two consecutive seasons without a title. After five years as sports director, Jordi Cruyff stepped down from the front office to become the team’s head coach last week and new CEO Ben Mansford has wasted little time in completing the deals he already had in the pipeline.
Maccabi already returns to action on the field next Thursday when it hosts Tirana of Albania in the first leg of the Europa League first qualifying round.
Atzili will be available to play next week, as will Ofir Davidzada, who joined on loan from Belgian club Gent on Monday.
Atzili joins from La Liga club Granada CF for a fee estimated at one million euro. The 23-yearold midfielder featured in only nine matches for Granada in his lone season in Spain after leaving Beitar Jerusalem last summer.
Atzili began his playing career at Maccabi’s youth department before leaving to Ironi Rishon Lezion where he made his senior debut. He joined Beitar in 2013, scoring 19 goals in 78 appearances.
“I grew up here at Maccabi and began as an eight-year old and was at the club until I was 16. Of course this was always something I had thought about and I wanted to come full circle,” said Atzili. “I’m excited to be back where I grew up.”
Atzili was also courted by Hapoel Beersheba and Maccabi Haifa, but ultimately picked Maccabi Tel Aviv, wanting to play under Cruyff and choosing to return to the club where he learned the game.
“Omer is a player who was on our radar for a long while,” said owner Mitch Goldhar. “We are sure his qualities and attributions will contribute to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the near and distant future.”
Atzili’s signing came a few hours after Maccabi announced the addition of Davidzada.
The 26-year-old defender is also returning to Israel after an unsuccessful one-year stint abroad, playing only three league games at Gent.
Maccabi has also signed veteran defender Tal Ben-Haim and striker Barak Itzhaki to one-year contract extensions, while Yossi Benayoun has left the club for Beitar Jerusalem.
Arguably Maccabi’s best player last season could also be on his way out, with winger Tal Ben-Haim in negotiations with Sparta Prague.
Ben-Haim has a release clause in his contract that allows him to leave Maccabi for 2.9 million euro before July 15.
Sparta is willing to meet the release clause, but Ben-Haim has yet to agree personal terms with the Czech club. Maccabi is hoping to keep Ben-Haim and is willing to offer him a lucrative contract extension as long as he agrees to drop the release clause.