Shnaider: I'm in for the long-haul

Exclusive: The new owner of Maccabi Tel Aviv speaks to the Post.

alex shnaider 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
alex shnaider 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In 1972 a four-year-old Alex Shnaider arrived in Israel for the first time. Born in St. Petersburg, Shnaider and his family eventually settled in Netanya's Bialik neighborhood with the hope of forging themselves a better future in the Holy Land. Nine years later the Shnaiders left for Toronto where Alex would eventually make his fortune and become one of the richest people in Canada. Those formative years in Israel, however, would give birth to a dream that was finally realized last Saturday at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv. Shnaider watched his first match as owner of Maccabi Tel Aviv at Bloomfield and was anything but pleased. He may have finally fulfilled his dream of owning an Israeli soccer club, but Maccabi's unimpressive 2-2 draw against Ironi Kiryat Shmona illustrated to the new boss the gargantuan task he faces if the team is to regain its former glory. Hailed as a savior from day one, Shnaider is intent on living up to the fans expectations, and in an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post he promises that he won't be leaving until his new club is the top side in Israel once again. "I see a great opportunity for success with this team, but to make the necessary improvements and changes will take a long time. I intend to stay as long as necessary to achieve our goals," Shnaider says in his first interview since purchasing the club. "Our first goal is to regain our status as the number one team in Israel. But eventually, yes, I think Maccabi can compete in Europe. The team has reached that level of success before, and we can get there again." Despite living in Canada for the last 27 years, Shnaider has never lost his affection or connection with Israeli soccer. "I loved Israeli soccer while I lived in Israel, and have followed it on and off since. I also know that soccer is the number one sport in Israel, and that Maccabi Tel Aviv is the most successful team in the history of Israeli soccer," says Shnaider, whose worth has been estimated at $1.8 billion by Forbes magazine . Maccabi is currently just three points above the Premier League's relegation zone and is in the midst of one of the its worst seasons ever. Tel Aviv, which has never been relegated from Israel's top division, lost six of its first seven matches and only claimed its first league win more than two months into the season. Shnaider has no illusions about the task at hand, but says that he "expects the team to improve, not only this year, but constantly." Just two matches into the season Tel Aviv's previous owner Loni Herikovitz fired coach Eli Cohen and hired Nir Levin in his place. Levin, who has two State Cup triumphs on his resume, has recorded mixed results so far and Shnaider seems to be far from committed to his current coach. "Coach Nir Levin came to the club mid-season to pull it out of the mud, and management is satisfied with his progress thus far," was all Shnaider said when asked whether Levin can take the club to where he would like it to be. General manager Avi Nimni, however, can sleep soundly as his future at the club looks to be more secure than ever. "Avi Nimni is not only a great player, but also an icon who symbolizes Maccabi Tel Aviv. I would like him to be involved with the club for many more years," Shnaider reveals. Aviv Bushinsky, who is expected to be named as the club's chairman, CEO Uzi Shaya and Nimni will run Maccabi on a day to day basis, but Shnaider plans to be in touch with the new management frequently. "I expect to be consulted on changes and updated on all details and progress, but the club's management team is responsible for day-to-day operations," he says. Shnaider also hopes to attend as many of the team's matches as possible. "I will do everything I can to enjoy the team and its fantastic fans as often as possible, but I cannot commit to the frequency of my attendance. My day, too, only has 24 hours!" The Maccabi fans biggest fear is that Shnaider may not treat their club as a long term project and that he will be leaving in the not so distant future. The billionaire is the former owner of the Midland Formula 1 Racing team, which he purchased in 2005. After two years at the bottom of the F1 standings he sold the team to Dutch sports car maker Spyker, but he insists that there will not be a similarly quick exit at Maccabi. "Formula 1 is a different story altogether, and you can't compare it with soccer," he states. "Rest assured I intend to stay as long as necessary to achieve our goals." Shnaider's interest in Maccabi, however, is not just about soccer. "I am involved in a number of Jewish philanthropic causes, so one of my main motivations for purchasing the club is the Maccabim Foundation, which was established by Loni Herzikovitz and his mother. The Maccabim Foundation is a wonderful program that connects sport with the community, and I very much hope that the Herzikovitz family will continue to be involved in the activities of the foundation," he says. Developing Maccabi's youth system is also very high on his priority list. "I fully intend to invest in the youth system. This was one of my main motivations for acquiring the club, and I have communicated those objectives to management. Our youth is the future of the club, and they connect the club to the community. Moreover, I am a great believer that the club can nurture promising young players into future pros. I will invest as much as necessary for the team to achieve these goals."