The Last Word: A breath of fresh air

For Aguiar to succesfuly transform Betar into a true soccer force he needs to do a lot of homework and learn much more about the machinations of Israeli sports in general and soccer in particular.

jeremy last better pic (photo credit: Courtesy)
jeremy last better pic
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A new era is on the horizon at Betar Jerusalem, and the club's management would do well to grab this opportunity with both hands, and hang on tight. Brazilian-born Jewish billionaire Guma Aguiar is seriously considering purchasing the team and, if the deal goes through, could save it from going out of business all together. As reported in The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, current Betar owner Arkadi Gaydamak does not intend to continue funding the team after the league season ends on May 30. This might have spelled disaster for one of the best-supported sports organizations in the country and may have forced it into bankruptcy. Betar's players earn far higher salaries than those at any other team in Israeli soccer, and until last week there was little prospect of anyone stepping in to pay the staff or covering any of the other costs if Gaydamak was to disappear. So the sudden interest of Aguiar, who insists he was personally motivated and not courted by anyone at Betar, is currently the only chance the most controversial sports team in the country has of pulling itself out of a financial black hole. The idea of Betar disappearing completely from the soccer scene may seem a little absurd, but say that to any fan of Hapoel Tel Aviv's basketball team and it becomes more plausible. Just four years ago Hapoel was one of the top teams in Israel; in 2004 it even easily beat city rival Maccabi just before the team in yellow won the Euroleague title at Yad Eliyahu. But financial problems forced Hapoel owner Shaul Eisenberg to voluntarily relegate the team to the National League and since then its legendary Ussishkin Arena has been torn down and the club has fizzled out completely. The coming days, therefore, are of crucial importance to Betar and it is understandable that club chairman Itzik Kornfein and the rest of the management are extremely keen on Aguiar taking over where Gaydamak left off. While the move clearly would bring positives for both Aguiar and Betar, the two parties should be careful not to repeat the mistakes made during Gaydamak's years in charge. When speaking to Aguiar it quickly becomes clear that he wears his heart on his sleeve and has altruistic motives. Unlike Gaydamak, who bought the club to make a name for himself and try and win political support, Aguiar has stressed that he does not intend to get into politics and only wants to help the people of Jerusalem. This is a good start, but for Aguiar to succesfuly transform Betar into a true soccer force he needs to do a lot of homework and learn much more about the machinations of Israeli sports in general and soccer in particular. It is an insular community which is generally suspicious of outsiders shoving their way in, and in which stars often fall quickly from their great expectations. One of Gaydamak's most significant errors was in thinking it was worth it to pump far more money into the club than had ever been seen in Israel. In this regard it appears that Aguiar has learned the lesson and wisely does not intend to pay over the odds for any player as has been the case in recent years. Kornfein and his colleagues are in a difficult position. It is unlikely that there is going to be any bidding war for Betar so they have no real option other than to take up any offer from Aguiar if it materializes. However they should not accept every single demand from Aguiar's people. The deal is far from done and there is every possibility it could fall apart. However, unless the Betar books show up a massive unexpected debt, Aguiar could be the new man in control of the team within a few weeks - a move which would breathe much needed fresh air into a club which was quickly going stale.