The failure of Betar's mediocre Europeans

This rollercoaster ride might be fun and interesting, but can it really be good for the team?

Fernandez 298.88 (photo credit: Areil Jerozolimski)
Fernandez 298.88
(photo credit: Areil Jerozolimski)
What a tumultuous week it's been for Betar Jerusalem. Just last weekend, after the embarrassing 1-0 defeat to bottom-of-the-league Hapoel Kfar Saba, the club's tempestuous (lets call him that for want of being impolite) "general manager," Luis Fernandez, told journalists that he had had enough of the fans disrespecting him and that he was definitely quitting at the end of the season. A week later, and the former PSG and Espanyol coach has made a complete turnaround, insisting he's staying and he's happy. It was all a little strange. Frenchman Fernandez had swiftly disappeared off to France after the Kfar Saba game. The poor man was all upset when the fans shouted at him after the team performed poorly, and he didn't want to work here anymore. No way was he going to change his mind, he insisted in numerous interviews given from France to Israeli journalists. The funny thing was that, although Fernandez had made his feelings very clear to the Israeli media, the Betar management acted as if nothing had happened. Owner Arkadi Gaydamak said he had heard nothing about Fernandez quitting and president Vladimir Shklar said he hadn't spoken to Fernandez and therefore had nothing to say. And, as if by magic, Fernandez was back four days later, denying it all. He was staying put, he said. He will see how it goes, but there's no reason to say he won't stay next year. He wants to take the team to Europe, etc., etc. This rollercoaster ride might be fun and interesting, but can it really be good for the team? Amazingly, it somehow managed to inspire the players, who performed exceptionally well against Bnei Yehuda. From Eliran Danin in the left of defense, through to Amit Ben-Shushan (a striker who had been put on the left wing), midfielder Aviram Bruchian and striker Barak Itzhaki - Betar was awesome. If it hadn't been for a penalty miss and some now-trademark bad finishing from Spanish import David Aganzo, Betar could easily have won five- or six-nothing. But that's the point. This Fernandez does not seem to have taken the club forward like he thinks he has and talks about. The rudeness with which he treats journalists, his disgusting comments about Omri Afek, whom he publicly humiliated in interviews last week, and his below-average signings have done little to help the club. These Europeans just aren't very good. Jerome Leroy can do some nice things, but he's too old and too slow; Aganzo can't shoot; Fabrice Fernandes is ineffective and center back Igor Mitreski is no better than Tomer Ben-Yosef or Eliran Hodida (who was forced out of the club and now plays for rival Bnei Sakhnin, of all teams). What the win on Saturday night showed was that Betar can do very well indeed with the young Israeli players former coach Ton Caanen was so carefully bringing to the fore. Under Caanen, who was pushed out after Fernandez decided he didn't want him, there was an electrifying atmosphere and togetherness amongst the team. The Dutchman bought no new players but inspired the ones that were there already. And those were the ones who performed on Saturday night - not the new ones (although Macedonian defender Mitreski played ok and somehow opened the scoring). People have tried to make out that Leroy is the heart of the team - but without him Betar played with a spirit and finesse not seen since the 4-0 thrashing of Upper Nazareth last November. So-called superstar Leroy clearly hasn't made any friends, and sat all by himself in the VIP area at Teddy Stadium on Saturday night after being suspended for picking up too many yellow cards. Fernandez may well stay next season, but many fans feel that without him and his expensive mediocre Europeans the club will do fine by itself. Maybe its time to give assistant coach Guy Azuri full control. He's been through enough this season to gain the experience needed - and at least he can keep a cool head under pressure. Fernandez obviously can't.