The Last Word: A chink of light in a dark offseason

Newly promoted Hapoel Beersheba is the one team that has continued to think big rather than put a hold on its spending.

jeremy last better pic (photo credit: Courtesy)
jeremy last better pic
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Real Madrid's multimillion euro spending spree appears to be far from over. Having already splashed out some 160 million euros on bringing in Kaka from AC Milan and the transfer of Cristiano Ronaldo from Manchester United, club chairman Florentino Perez has admitted he is planning to spend much more of the money secured in recent bank loans in an attempt to once again replace Barcelona as the best team in Europe. On Thursday Bobby Charlton, the Manchester United director, described the price paid for Ronaldo as "vulgar." In a world of economic crisis we can see Charlton's point, and it's no surprise that the situation here is markedly different from that in Spain. Rather than pushing the boat out, Israeli sports teams have been frantically slashing their budgets during the offseason, hoping to find stability in frugality. The days of Betar Jerusalem's Arkadi Gaydamak, Maccabi Netanya's Daniel Jammer and Maccabi Tel Aviv's Alex Shnaider flashing bundles cash in order to attract players and attempt to build a credible team to challenge in Europe are over. Gaydamak has been doing his best to offload Betar, and the massive debts that come with it, although Guma Aguiar has yet to take the full bait. Jammer, who created a new level of optimism when he arrived in Netanya two years ago, has replaced overly-expensive coach Lothar Matthaus with his assistant Nati Azaria. And Shnaider, the Canadian former Formula One team owner who pranced into Israeli soccer in January 2008, is suddenly doing his best to take a back seat at Maccabi Tel Aviv, refusing to pump more than the minimum amounts into the organization for the coming season while looking for a partner to help fund his endeavor and save it from collapse. The situation paints a depressing picture for the near future of local soccer. Not only will clubs be unable to purchase top players, they will also be employing an uninspired staff forced to accept large salary cuts. On top of all this, shortsighted Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon has ensured an even greater number of low quality games with the expansion of the Premier League from 12 to 16 teams. If Betar and Maccabi Netanya are struggling to stay afloat, how will Hapoel Acre, Hapoel Haifa or Ahi Nazareth manage to make it through the season? In stark contrast to its city neighbor, Hapoel Haifa has already been experiencing the financial backlash this week after the water system was turned off at its training ground due to its inability to pay a reported NIS 120,000 water bill. But there is one small chink of light in the darkness which is enveloping the soccer scene. Newly promoted Hapoel Beersheba is the one team that has continued to think big rather than put a hold on its spending. Since businesswoman Alona Barkat bought the club in 2007, the woman known as The Queen in the Negev town has been on a mission to revive the club which won the league title in 1975 and 1976. She has already been able to take ex-Betar Jerusalem goalie Tvrtko Kale down south and could well give the green light to new coach Guy Azuri to buy more players. Barkat's influence on the league is to be welcomed as a spark of optimism in a depressing state of affairs, but let's hope she treats the transfer market with a degree of maturity. Rather than following in the footsteps of Perez, Barkat should take inspiration from Barcelona chairman Joan Laporta, who was in Israel this week to attend the wedding of the daughter of super agent Pini Zahavi. "We are different cultures," Laporta told Israeli reporters when asked about Madrid. "We prefer to go with common sense, not to spend more than the money we have and try to invest in a reasonable way. I respect everybody and everybody is free to do what they want with their money and resources, but in our case we act differently."