Aguiar ushers in new era at Betar

Guma tells 'Post' Jerusalem soccer club is as iconic as the New York Yankees.

Gumar Aguiar press conference 248.88 (photo credit: Jeremy Last)
Gumar Aguiar press conference 248.88
(photo credit: Jeremy Last)
After months of uncertainty Arkadi Gaydamak has finally allowed the Betar Jerusalem reins to be handed over to businessman Guma Aguiar, although Gaydamak will apparently remain the official club owner for now. Betar chairman Itzik Kornfein said at a press conference held at the offices of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat on Tuesday afternoon that Gaydamak will not continue to fund the club, while Aguiar has agreed to become the main sponsor and effectively the man in control of Betar's interests. Kornfein told the assembled media masses that he felt like a "father after a new son is born," before revealing former coach Itzhak Schum as the club's coach for the coming season and former team captain David Amsalem as his assistant. But the person everyone wanted to hear from was Aguiar, the Brazilian-born American energy magnate who is donating some $4 million to Betar to prevent it from going bankrupt. The 32-year-old Aguiar has not become the owner due to legal complications, but he said he soon hopes to take full control, most probably at the end of the coming season. It is unclear at this stage what Gaydamak's temporary status entails. Aguiar told reporters that he wanted to get involved in Betar as it is "important for the future of the city and the nation." "Today is a wonderful day for Jerusalem, the fans, for sports, for the nation of Israel," he added. There had been concerns that the Aguiar deal would be scuppered by the many people apparently owed money by Gaydamak. However, at a meeting with the Israel Football Association Tuesday morning, Kornfein was given an assurance that the money would not be taken by any creditors. Three hours earlier Aguiar spoke at length about his plans for Betar with The Jerusalem Post in a one on one interview at his Jerusalem home, comparing the club to one of the great American sports teams. "I think it's a very positive thing for the city... and it's a strategic investment in the future of sports," Aguiar said. "Can you imagine if the Yankees were looking at non-existing as a team? That's what Betar is for this city, this country. It's an icon." Earlier this summer Aguiar had said he wanted to wait for the team to file for bankruptcy before he took over, but on Tuesday he admitted it was preferable to avoid Chapter 11 if at all possible. "Bankruptcy is ugly. If something can be done to save it from going to bankruptcy that's ideal," he said. "I'm willing to come in and buy his [Gaydamak's] interest in the team. I'm not interested in all that other stuff. Everybody can deal with his interests in other assets or condos or development things. I don't know his businesses." Aguiar was extremely enthusiastic about tapping into what he sees as the massive potential of Betar Jerusalem, both in terms of marketing it abroad and using it in Israel to influence locals. Saying he sees the club as a "platform" to educate the masses, Aguiar told the Post: "I might end up using the platform as a way to educate people, but that's going to be because they're going to want me to educate them. "It's not like I'm going to get up and start giving people lectures and put them to sleep. They're going to ask me questions and they're going to want to know more about Jewish heritage." Aguiar said he had no problem with the expected upturn in media interest in his life. "I'm really here and I'm committed to this... There's actually a personality behind this, a person who is thinking about it and a person who cares about it and wants to see the club develop, and I think that's sort of intriguing to people because they've seen the opposite in the last few years where it been used on a level that wasn't positive," he said while explaining how he intends to handle the club differently from Gaydamak. "There wasn't any advancement in education and people developing. It just seemed like it didn't reach out to the community as much as it could have, especially considering its supporter base and the potential it has. "It should really be something that the city and the fans, the locals, have a lot more respect for or a lot more involvement in and I'd like to try and see that over the course of the next year."