The Last Word: So far, so good for Mitch’s Maccabi TA

The Canadian has the potential to make a real impact on the local soccer scene.

The January transfer window is traditionally a time for panic buying by Europe’s top soccer clubs, and Israel’s are no exception.
Even though the squads assembled over the summer are generally strong enough to withstand the injuries and loss of form of some players, coaches and managers often convince themselves that the addition of an expensive midfielder or striker will benefit the squad in the long run.
So in came Daniel de Ridder from Wigan to Hapoel Tel Aviv, Sebastian Vasquez from Odessa to Betar Jerusalem and Sadat Bukari from Etoille du Sahel to Macccabi Haifa.
Strikingly, Maccabi Tel Aviv was the one of Israel’s “big four” which went against the grain and did not splash out on new talent.
And as expected, Vasquez, de Ridder and Bukari all failed to light up the league in their three months on these shores.
This, perhaps, is another illustration of the stability and maturity that has been instilled into Maccabi Tel Aviv by owner Mitchell Goldhar since he bought the club in August 2009.
The last few months have not been an easy time for fans of Maccabi.
Those watching the team fail to win in the last six league games, most recently falling 3-1 to Ashdod SC last weekend, have had genuine cause for concern.
The penalty shootout defeat at Betar Jerusalem in the State Cup last month must also have been particularly painful.
However, there was reason for cheer this week with the news that Goldhar has secured deals with striker Roberto Colautti and defender Yoav Ziv to join the club next season. It appears that a foreign owner is finally building an Israeli soccer club in a methodical, businesslike manner.
Over the past five years an array of foreigners have tried their luck at turning Israeli soccer into gold, and all have left empty handed, complaining that they were surprised by the organizations’ poor financial basis.
It all began with Russian-Jewish billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak who promised the world to Betar Jerusalem fans when he arrived in the summer of 2005, but walked out on the club three years later.
He was followed by German-Jewish businessman Daniel Jammer, who is now looking for a buyer to take over Maccabi Netanya, and Canadian-Jewish former Formula One team owner Alex Shnaider who said he planned to be involved with Maccabi Tel Aviv longterm.
And who can forget the brief but exciting foray into Israeli sports by Brazilian-born millionaire Guma Aguiar, which came to an abrupt halt when he was forcibly entered into a psychiatric hospital in January having given Betar a reported $4 million.
Luckily for Maccabi Tel Aviv supporters, Goldhar, 48, decided to take on the team’s financial burdens from Shnaider and could well deliver what others were unable to – stability followed by sustained success.
Goldhar, a self-made billionaire who was ranked as Canada’s 50th richest person in 2008 with a net worth of $1.06 billion, has proved his acumen over a long business career.
He owns private shopping mall developer SmartCentres and has a 25 percent stake in Calloway Real Estate Investment Trust.
It has been interesting to see that although Goldhar has made numerous trips to Israel to watch the team play, he has not given one interview to the local media.
Unlike Aguiar, whose family claimed the constant intrusion by journalists was a reason for his mental downfall, Goldhar has avoided confrontation and let his decisions do the talking.
Earlier this year he was highly criticized in the press for meeting with Israel coach Dror Kashtan in the full view of the public with analysts jumping to the conclusion that he was attempting to convince Kashtan to take over at Maccabi.
However, he has consistently given his backing to Maccabi coach Avi Nimni, and the former Israel captain is expected to continue as first team coach next season.
According to reports in the Hebrew media, Goldhar was personally involved in convincing Argentinian-Israeli striker Colautti to leave German side Borussia Monchengladbach for Tel Aviv.
Goldhar reportedly flew to Germany especially to discuss the future of Maccabi with Colautti, the former Maccabi Haifa forward who has won 17 caps for Israel, and Colautti said this was a key factor in his decision to return to Israel.
Both Ziv and Colautti are quality players who will bring much neededexperience and skill to a Maccabi Tel Aviv side that needs more firepower and a strong left back to replace Roni Gafney.
There are also rumors that Maccabi has added ex-Betar Jerusalemmidfielder Gal Alberman to its shopping list, another superb decisionif it comes to fruition.
With Goldhar less than a year into his time at Maccabi Tel Aviv, it isstill way too early to make a firm assessment of its success.
But so far, the Canadian is turning out to be a shrewd individual whohas the potential to make a real impact on the local soccer scene.