The Last Word: From champion to failure...

How long can the Betar Jerusalem saga continue?

jeremy last 88 (photo credit: )
jeremy last 88
(photo credit: )
There was a time, not very long ago, when Betar Jerusalem's management was doing everything it could to turn the club into the Manchester United of Israel. Initially it succeeded, with Betar winning the league in 2007 and then the league and cup double in 2008. But it is now becoming painfully obvious how short term the plans really were. It may have only been a few months since Arkadi Gaydamak disappeared from the Israeli soccer scene, but the club has spiralled out of control at such a rate that these days it would be more appropriate to compare Betar to English struggler West Bromwich Albion than last season's Champions League winner. But even that comparison with the bottom club in England's top division would not do justice to the speed of the decline in Betar's significance in Israeli soccer, especially following this week's debacle at Hapoel Tel Aviv and the chaos that came after. Jerusalem's fans, thousands of whom stood directly behind the goal at Bloomfield where their team let in two diabolical goals on Monday, were left scratching their heads and calling for the sacking of coach Reuven Atar when Jerusalem fell apart and was beaten 4-0 by Hapoel. The reaction of club chairman Itzik Kornfein illustrated everything that is wrong at Betar in its current state. The former Betar goalkeeper, who was made chairman earlier this season when Gaydamak sacked Eli Arazi, made the most unprofessional and rash decision to fine every player on the Betar first team squad NIS 10,000 as punishment for the defeat at Tel Aviv. He then attempted to show solidarity by also fining himself, but that only made him look even more naive. The coach and the players may have all made mistakes on Monday, but financial punishment is not going to help inspire them to do better next time. The best way would to improve the situation on the playing side would simply have been to force the players to work hard on the training field. Instead of one practice session a day, make them practice twice and include far more rigorous physical exercises. With Gaydamak out of the picture Kornfein is essentially the main man at Betar, but he clearly does not have the depth of experience to run the show on his own. It was reported that Kornfein decided on Monday night that Atar must be sacked. This was a fair decision, considering the many wrong decisions the coach has made since his appointment at the start of the season, most notably at Hapoel when he played such an attacking formation it left practically no room for defense. Unfortunately for Korfein, however, it was also reported that he had spent much of Tuesday attempting to get hold of Gaydamak with no success. In the meantime, the players are unhappy with the way things are being run, the fans are up in arms over the poor performances, and Jerusalem has to prepare for a crucial State Cup match in Kiryat Shmona on Sunday night. This week's defeat in Tel Aviv all but ended Jerusalem's chances of retaining the league title it won at a canter for the last two years. A loss in the north this weekend will make it impossible for Betar to win the Cup, and effectively end its season there and then. Responsibility for this mess lies with Gaydamak. It is only he who can improve things by doing the right thing and selling the club as soon as possible so someone else can have a go at running Betar Jerusalem in a mature manner. But with a sale unlikely in the near future, in part due to the current economic downturn, who knows how long the Betar saga will continue? Crazy as though it may sound, one of the biggest names in Israeli sports could very well disappear from the scene altogether if something isn't done to save it very soon.