The Last Word: The backward plan to supplant Schum

Gaydamak has a total lack of professionalism when it comes to how he has been running Betar Jerusalem.

jeremy last better pic (photo credit: Courtesy)
jeremy last better pic
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When a dozen or so journalists sat waiting patiently for a press conference to start at the Jerusalem offices of Arkadi Gaydamak on Derech Bet Lehem on Sunday the last person they expected to see walking through the door was Itzhak Schum. For the previous three or four days the Israeli newspapers, Web sites and radio stations had been very sure in their assumptions that Schum, the coach of beleaguered Israeli soccer champion Betar Jerusalem, was to be turfed out and replaced by ex-Betar coach Eli Ohana. Jerusalem had been comprehensively outplayed by Polish champ Wisla Krakow over two legs, losing 5-0 away from home last week, resulting in the Israelis being dumped out of the Champions League at the earliest possible stage for a second year in a row. Surely Schum had failed in his mission and it was time for him to go? As soon as the coach arrived, however, it became immediately obvious how wrong the media had been and how much it had underestimated the inexplicable pseudo-cunning of Gaydamak, the club's billionaire Russian-born owner. Schum immediately sat down, slumped in a chair in the corner looking like a school boy who had just been given a severe telling off by the head master. Seated behind him were Itzik Korenfine, the former goalkeeper turned Betar Jerusalem general manager, and club chairman Eli Arazi - neither of whom appeared as if they had any idea what bombshell Gaydamak was about to drop on the thousands of Betar fans sitting at home watching the press conference, which was broadcast live on the television and Internet. And then the games began. Gaydamak's elusive assistant Yossi Milstein went around the room handing out poorly printed photocopied pieces of paper containing a lengthy statement signed by Gaydamak where he claimed he had tried to "protect the image of Jerusalem" by buying the club and improving it. Everyone rushed to read through their copy as quickly as possible, knowing there must be a gem hidden in the rough. And there it was, right at the end of the fifth paragraph: "I have already started to negotiate with an international coach who already has prior experience with Betar Jerusalem Football Club - Mr. Louis (sic) Fernandez." That Gaydamak couldn't even get the first name of his new employee right (it is Luis) in a printed statement is just another proof of his total lack of professionalism when it comes to the way he has run, and continues to run, Betar Jerusalem. It was no complete surprise that Fernandez was chosen, as his name was brought up in the press on a number of occasions in the days before the press conference. The decision to bring him back to Betar and then try to force Schum to work together with the Frenchman is a big, big mistake which will only backfire in a big way, even though Gaydamak believes he has pulled off a masterstroke. Somehow the Betar faithful and the media have convinced themselves that Fernandez was good for Betar when he coached the team for six months from December 2005 to May 2006. But looking beyond the European flair, it is hard to ignore that Fernandez brought far more problems than success to the club, both with his anti-social attitude and his apparently poor coaching skills. Of the players Fernandez attracted to Betar, only Gal Alberman was a success, and that was after the coach had left. Striker David Aganzo couldn't score in a brothel, center back Igor Mitresky was a low quality defender, midfielder Jerome Leroy spent most of his time fouling and picking up red cards, and Fabrice Fernandes was hot and cold at best. As I wrote in this column in February 2006: "Fernandez seemed more interested in bringing in players he had worked with rather than players that will be able to work together." There was rarely any very impressive soccer played by Betar in Fernandez's time, despite what people might have you believe. And his attitude caused even more problems. The way he quit the team like a cry baby after the fans turned on him following a home loss, combined with how he forced former coach Ton Caanen out of the club and totally blocked Omri Ofek out of the team for no particular reason, do not bode well for his future relationship with Schum or the Jerusalem fans. Gaydamak's appointment stinks of poor decision making from a man who has no understanding of how to run a professional soccer club in a professional manner. Instead of dealing with the issue at its core and searching for a high quality coach who can help the players focus mentally on the European game, he has just brought back the only European he has worked with, because he knew him already. As Gaydamak left the building one reporter turned to him and said, with a hint of irony, that he expects to be back in the same office in a few weeks with either Schum or Fernandez, insinuating that there is no way the pair will be able to work together. Gaydamak just looked at him, knowing he was right, but helpless to stop the inevitable slide. [email protected]