Sports: Next year in Jerusalem?

Betar struggles to attract quality players.

Earlier this week billionaire businessman Arkadi Gaydamak launched a highly charged and strongly worded attack on the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team, in which he invested heavily last season only to see it lose to Maccabi Tel Aviv in the BSL final once again. Gaydamak said he had been disrespected and would not be donating as much money to the team this season. Although he appears to want to give up on his basketball arm, the businessman has shown no sign of ending his connection with Betar, the soccer club he wants to turn into an international brand. To do that he needs to attract famous international players. Though he has made a concerted effort to do so since taking over at Betar last year, he has essentially failed. Last season was a case in point. Amid the excitement of French soccer legend Luis Fernandez's appointment as Betar Jerusalem's general manager, rumors began to circulate about the various superstars he would be encouraging to join the team. I, for one, was sent to Teddy Stadium under the impression that former French international, Chelsea and AC Milan defender Marcel Desailly had flown in and was considering trading retirement for the yellow and black jersey. It turned out, of course, that the rumors were wrong and Desailly was nowhere to be found. It was clear Fernandez would not be able to bring any players into Betar until the January transfer window, a few months after his appointment last November. But the Israeli press was hungry for the name, as was Gaydamak, and in December the first announcement was made - Frenchman Jerome Leroy would be joining Betar. There were a couple of problems here. After all the promise of big names, few people had any idea who Leroy was. An Internet search showed he had played for some of the famous clubs in France, but he wasn't exactly a superstar. And at the press conference introducing the midfielder to the local hacks, Gaydamak spoke of Leroy as if he were the greatest player ever born, but Leroy hardly said a word, appearing disinterested in the whole media circus and even less interested in playing for Betar. Over the six months he played in Jerusalem, Leroy showed some skill, but his aggressive style and apparent disinterest in the club was obvious and he rarely set the stadiums alight. Even though he was encouraged to stay even after Fernandez quit the club, it was clear he would leave. And very soon afterward he was on the plane back to France. Other Betar foreign players brought in by Fernandez went the same way. Spaniard David Aganzo was another import who hardly ever performed well and soon left. This season's crop of foreigners at Betar, mostly brought in by ex-coach Ossie Ardiles, include Argentinean reject Christian Fabiani, Chilean Milovan Mirosovic and Ghanaian Derek Boateng - hardly David Beckham or Ronaldinho. One of the main issues that is halting the attraction of foreign stars to Betar is the lack of professionalism of the club as well as the Israeli league. It is one thing for many little-known Africans to come and play in this country. But for Gaydamak to have any chance of bringing famous and quality players to the club, he needs to look at how professional clubs are run. Betar's training ground is an embarrassment, a dirty, dusty pitch surrounded by broken bits of metal and a small shack for a changing and eating area. It is difficult to understand how Gaydamak can even consider encouraging players of Desailly's stature to play here while the facilities are of such a low standard. It remains to be seen whether Boateng, Mirosovic et al. will make it, but until the team becomes more professional it is unlikely any superstars will be coming to live in Jerusalem any time soon.