By ALLON SINAIPublished: OCTOBER 6, 2009 15:46Advertisement
A brief visit to Israel by UEFA President Michel Platini's ended in embarrassing fashion on Tuesday night after four Betar Jerusalem fans hurled abuse towards Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon during a joint press conference in Tel Aviv.
The Betar supporters were immediately escorted out of the Hilton Hotel conference room, but by that stage they had made their point and humiliated Luzon, as well as Israeli soccer as a whole, in front of the distinguished guest.
Platini had also met President Shimon Peres earlier Tuesday, but his two-day trip to Israel will forever be remembered for the bizarre press conference incident.
"This is a minor incident and these people do not represent Israeli soccer fans and can not mar Platini's visit to Israel," said IFA spokesperson Gil Lebanony, while Luzon refused to address the issue.
Betar Jerusalem was also quick to distance itself from its unruly fans. "This incident is embarrassing and humiliating and gives both Betar Jerusalem and its many fans a bad name. We apologize to anybody who may have been hurt by this," read a statement released by the club.
Betar's fans have had a number of long-running disputes with Luzon, who they believe treats the club more harshly than other teams when handing out punishments for unruly behaviour by supporters.
The unexpected interruption occurred several minutes into the media event, during which Platini was asked about a range of issues concerning European and Israeli soccer.
The 54-year-old French soccer legend, who was elected as UEFA President in January 2007, is a big favorite among Europe's smaller countries, including Israel, after promoting several changes to continental competitions which have benefited clubs from these associations.
Maccabi Haifa, for example, owes some of its success in reaching the Champions League group stage to Platini. UEFA divided the qualification to European soccer's premier competition into a champions and non-champions route this season, meaning Haifa did not have to play a team from one of the continent's top 12 leagues on its way to the group stage.
"I prefer to have a champion of a smaller country in the group stage rather than a team which finished fourth in a rich league," said Platini, whose words were translated from French to Hebrew by legendary former Israel international Mordechai Spiegler.
"Haifa achieved its success on the field. I only implemented the UEFA plans. I believe that with the money it receives from playing in the Champions League Haifa will improve the level of play in the Israeli league as a whole."
Platini also spoke about the Israeli national team and its failure to reach a major tournament since 1970, when Spiegler scored its only goal in a World Cup finals.
"There has been an improvement in Israeli soccer and you see many Israeli players doing well in Europe's top clubs," he said. "To have a great team you need many talented players and small countries don't always get that in every generation. I think Israeli soccer is on the rise."
Israel has been yearning to host a European tournament or major continental cup final for years, but according to Platini that will not happen until more soccer facilities are built in the country.
"As soon as there will be new and improved stadiums Israel will be able to host a tournament," he said.
In the past few months, Platini has voiced his concern regarding the extraordinary fees being paid for players by Europe's top clubs. Platini explained on Tuesday why he has an issue with some of the amounts being spent on transfers.
"I don't mind the massive transfers as long as the clubs can afford to pay for them," he said. "I have a big problem with it when clubs can not afford to pay for the players. If you want to buy a new car and you can not afford it you should not go ahead and purchase it. The same thing goes for soccer clubs."
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