Two of the Premier League’s smaller teams fighting administration as well as relegation.
By ALLON SINAI
While Maccabi Haifa’s stampede towards a second straight Premier League championship has been attracting most of the attention, two of the league’s smaller clubs have been battling for their mere existence in recent weeks.Maccabi Ahi Nazareth and Hapoel Ramat Gan are both facing financial ruin and, despite emergency measures taken in the past week, could fall into administration before the season is over.Nazareth has struggled to pay its players on time throughout the season and eight of its squad members refused to train on Sunday, saying they would not come back until they received their salaries.After being threatened with suspensions and fines, the players eventually agreed to return to action on Tuesday following yet another promise that they will soon be paid.The Israel Football Association’s Budget Control Authority announced on Thursday that Nazareth will not be given the NIS 400,000 the IFA is set to hand to each of the league’s teams next week unless the players are paid what they are owed.“If Nazareth doesn’t promise us that the players will be paid by Monday they will not get the money and we will send in an accountant on our behalf to help the club,” Budget Control Authority chairman Ofer Orlitzky said.Ramat Gan’s situation is not as complicated, but after also struggling to pay salaries, club owner Yaron Kuris turned to the Budget Control Authority and asked that Shahar Ben-Ami, a former member of the Hapoel Tel Aviv management, be put in control of the running of the club until the end of the season.Advertisement“The team will continue to function as usual,” Kuris told Army radio on Thursday. “So what if we owe salaries? Everyone here owes salaries. I’ve had enough of soccer and I want to sell the club. Ben-Ami will help run the club and will negotiate with the potential buyers.”Even before the downfall of Nazareth and Ramat Gan, there were serious concerns about the viability of a 16 team top flight in Israel, with Betar Jerusalem, Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Beersheba also all facing an uncertain future after their respective owners announced they will leave the clubs at the end of the season.Nazareth and Ramat Gan players will have to try and ignore the fact that they may soon be out of work when they continue to fight for their lives in the Premier League on Saturday.John Gregory’s Ahi, which has won just once in its last 19 matches, was thumped 5-0 by Maccabi Haifa last week, but visits a struggling Maccabi Netanya side on Saturday.Netanya has lost three of its last four matches, winning only once in its last eight encounters, recording a stunning 1-0 victory over Haifa.Ramat Gan can at least console itself with success on the pitch after beating Bnei Yehuda 2-1 on Sunday to move eight points clear of Nazareth and the relegation zone.Ramat Gan hosts Hapoel Haifa on Saturday and will be hoping to put further distance between itself and the bottom two before the gap will be cut by half under the league’s new regulations ahead of the final five matches of the season.Any lingering hope Hapoel Tel Aviv still has of catching Maccabi Haifa will evaporate if it fails to defeat Bnei Yehuda on Saturday.Hapoel’s title hopes suffered a crushing blow on Monday after it only managed a 1-1 draw at Hapoel Petah Tikva following a 90th minute strike by Petah Tikva’s Guy Tzarfati.Haifa doesn’t host Maccabi Tel Aviv until Monday, giving Hapoel a chance to put its title rival under a little pressure by cutting the margin to eight points with a win on Saturday.Betar Jerusalem hosts Ashdod SC on Saturday, looking for its third straight victory under new coach David Amsalem.“We obviously wanted to win with Itzhak Schum, but the changing of thecoach has had an effect on the team,” captain Aviram Bruchian said.“Players no longer have a guaranteed place in the starting lineup and everyone is running and fighting more than before.”Also Saturday, Maccabi Petah Tikva hosts cross-town rival Hapoel in aheated derby match, with Hapoel Acre visiting rock-bottom HapoelRa’anana. Hapoel Beersheba hosts Bnei Sakhnin on Sunday.
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