The Last Word: The end of the (brief) oligarch era at Betar?

Suddenly, the richest club in the country is in a state of disarray.

jeremy last new 298.88 (photo credit: Jeremy Last)
jeremy last new 298.88
(photo credit: Jeremy Last)
It has been only three-and-a-half years since Russian-born billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak bought what was then a failing Betar Jerusalem, and already the dream is nearly over. Just six months ago, Betar was on top of the world, celebrating winning an historic league and cup double after claiming the Israeli Premier League title for the second year in succession. But unfortunately for the vast majority of those involved in the club at the time, the bubble was about to burst. And burst it most certainly has. Suddenly the richest club in the country is in a state of disarray. When the entire top level management team was sacked in a stunning cull four months ago, few understood what was going on, especially when the individuals in question were mostly not replaced. Now there is talk of most of the star players being offloaded in the summer and it has become clear that the global economic crisis has hit Gaydamak, and Betar, in a big, big way. There have been reports of the club cutting costs in every manner possible, including canceling the hot meal served to the players after training sessions. But the most intriguing question hanging over the whole situation is with regards the owner himself - where has Gaydamak disappeared to? Arkadi has not been seen or heard from since leaving the country in mid-December and his absence is causing no shortage of problems. Last week, former Betar owner Moshe Dadash claimed he had been appointed as the new boss at the club by Gaydamak. A day later, club chairman Itzik Kornfein denied Dadash's claims. In any case, it seems obvious that the Gaydamak days are all but over, and we will likely be seeing a very different Betar Jerusalem next season. The air of confidence which drove Betar to the top of the league for two years has already disappeared; soon the star players who arrived in the capital amid such fanfare at such a high cost will also be on their way out. For many Betar fans, the current situation is being viewed as a disaster. Gaydamak was hailed as a messiah by a large section of the club's supporters, who held up banners with pictures of him and sung his name during games. Without the millions he pumped into the club, it will almost assuredly be unable to attract the highly paid players. However, if these fans take a step back, they may soon understand that Gaydamak's influence wasn't all good for Betar and the change may prove to be positive for the club's future. All too often, Arkadi used Betar Jerusalem as his own personal PR tool, rarely worrying about the long-term future of the operation. If a staff member wasn't to his liking on a particular day, be it the press officer, chairman or even the coach, Gaydamak would show them the door, seemingly on a whim, without considering the implications. The big question mark now is over what will come next. Fortunately for Betar fans, the prospects of Dadash retaking control appear far dimmer than last week. Such a move would not be prudent, as the larger-than-life character is widely seen as being responsible for driving Jerusalem into financial disarray in the 1990s. On Thursday, rumors began circulating that former Gaydamak adviser Yossi Milstein is considering launching a takeover bid with a group of investors, including another former Betar owner, Meir Fenigel. This partnership between old and new could be the best way forward for the team in yellow and black. What Betar needs is a mature, financially solid management team who can end the oligarch era, one in which a tempestuous owner used the soccer club as his personal toy.