Play to the fans

There was quite an atmosphere at Gan Sacher on Sunday afternoon. After the debacle of the previous weekend's crowd crush at Teddy Stadium, which resulted in Betar Jerusalem fans being banned from the team's next four home games, club owner Arkadi Gaydamak did the right thing and put on an extravagant concert, with massive screens showing the game against Hapoel Tel Aviv. The match had been moved to Ramat Gan and, despite fears that thousands of Betar fans would clash with police at the stadium, Gaydamak's tactic worked and more than 20,000 people gathered in the Jerusalem park from the early evening until after 2 a.m. to joyfully celebrate Betar's first league title in nine years. The organizers created a perfect concert for the Jerusalem team's fans, with local favorites performing classic Mizrahi songs before the game, at half time and afterwards. The only problem was that the spectators in Gan Sacher, who came full of joy, were soon brought down to earth when the party was unfortunately broken up by the dire game itself, which they all were forced to watch. As it has been all season, for most of Sunday's game the team played like a group of headless chickens, with little direction and, aside from some clever passes and moves by midfielder Gal Alberman, close to no style. True, Betar won thanks to a virtuoso effort by Ghanain Derek Boateng in the last minute. As well as creating a great concert for the fans, Gaydamak made another good decision over the weekend - to get rid of coach Yossi Mizrahi. Betar has finally taken the coveted Champions League qualification spot from Maccabi Haifa, and has to grab this opportunity with both hands. Mizrahi may have brought the championship to the capital, but he was unable to lead the team and must be replaced as soon as possible with someone with true European experience. That man should be Yitzhak Schum. Schum, who started the season as Hapoel Tel Aviv coach before being thrown out halfway through the campaign due to a dispute with the club's management, led Panathinaikos to the 2004 Greek championship, and coached the great 2003 Maccabi Haifa team as well, which qualified for the Champions League group stages and beat Manchester United. In its current state, Betar will be easily brushed aside by the majority of teams that have made it to the Champions League qualifying rounds. One of Mizrahi's biggest mistakes was his choice of foreign players who clearly didn't fit in, and then his insistence on playing them despite their obvious failures. Of the foreigners only Boateng should stay. There is massive potential among the young Israeli players at Betar, but they have to be much better organized, trained and tactically aware. That Betar won the youth league title a few weeks back is only good for the club. As well as regular first teamers Amit Ben-Shushan, Barak Itzhaki, Toto Tamuz and Aviram Bruchian, youth team players like Chen Azriel, Shay Nissim, Eli Sasson and Kobi Moyal must be embedded into the squad and made part of the European experience. These eight Israelis are some of the most talented soccer players in the country. With some strong guidance and quality coaching, and alongside a group of top-notch foreigners, they can form the basis of the next great Israeli team to take Europe by storm. But if the next Betar coach is unable to blend the Israelis and the foreign talent with foresight, he will soon be heading straight out of the club and Gaydamak will have to look for yet another coach.