What can be done for Hapoel Tel Aviv?

Sinai Says: There are no saints in the sad and sudden demise of Hapoel Tel Aviv, but it is Tabib who should shoulder almost all the blame for what has transpired.

Eli Tabib_311 (photo credit: Adi Avishai)
Eli Tabib_311
(photo credit: Adi Avishai)
“E.T. go home” – a sign held by Hapoel Tel Aviv fans during Monday night’s 3-0 Premier League defeat at Hapoel Haifa.
Oh how Hapoel Tel Aviv fans wish they had E.T. the friendly alien as the owner of their club rather than E.T. the shady businessman who seized control of Hapoel last summer.
Sure, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial struggles to communicate with human beings and probably has little knowledge of how to run a soccer club.
However, it is hard to see how that distinguishes him from E.T. Eli Tabib, the Kfar Saba native and Miami, Florida, resident who has seemingly set out to destroy one of Israel’s proudest clubs.
Hapoel supporters are surely hoping to wake up and discover that the past few months were no more than a nightmare after having it so good in recent years.
It was always going to be a difficult season for Tel Aviv following the departure of heralded coach Eli Gutman and star players Eran Zahavi (Palermo), Gili Vermut (Kaiserslautern), Itai Shechter (Kaiserslautern), Ben Sahar (AJ Auxerre) and Vincent Enyeama (Lille).
However, it is one thing to see your team struggle for results on the field and an entirely other to fear that the mere existence of your beloved club is in jeopardy, as Hapoel fans are feeling at the moment.
When Tabib officially bought a 50 percent stake at Hapoel to join Moni Harel as a co-owner in the summer of 2010 it seemed to be a match made in heaven.
Harel, a life-long fan, had been looking for several years for someone with whom to share the financial burden of running the club, while Tabib was searching for a way back into the soccer scene.
He had been involved in Israeli soccer before, owning Hapoel Kfar Saba between 1995 and 2009, and crucially, he had the capital and craving to be involved with a big club.
Harel also conveniently overlooked the fact that Tabib left Kfar Saba in complete ruin, something which he now surely regrets.
Thanks to Tabib’s money, Tel Aviv managed to hold on to almost all of its stars ahead of the 2010/11 season and went on to progress to the Champions League group stage.
But while Tabib’s influx of cash was helping the team succeed on the field, the clash of characters with Harel soon began to tear the club apart from the inside.
As last season drew to a close, it became clear that the two-headed monster had to be separated and eventually Tabib surprised everyone by turning down Harel’s low offer of NIS 6 million for his stake, choosing instead to seize full control of the club.
After taking a league title, two State Cups and also reaching the Champions League in the last two years, it was obvious 2011/12 would be a transition season.
Trusted veteran Dror Kashtan was put at the helm and until just over a month ago he looked set to add a seventh championship to his unmatched resume.
Hapoel seemed on course to race ahead in the title race after recording convincing victories against both arch-rival Maccabi Tel Aviv and reigning- champion Maccabi Haifa to move top of the standings.
To say that everything has gone horribly wrong in the six weeks since would be a grave understatement.
Defeats to high-flying Ironi Kiryat Shmona and Maccabi Petah Tikva were followed by disappointing draws against Bnei Yehuda and Betar Jerusalem, with a win over Hapoel Acre only providing a momentary respite.
A draw against Hapoel Beersheba soon followed and it will be a while before Monday’s humbling at Hapoel Haifa will be forgotten.
But Hapoel’s problems go far beyond its fall to third place in the standings, 12 points back of the streaking Kiryat Shmona.
Tabib struggled to come to terms with Kashtan’s authoritarian demeanor and lack of cooperation from day one, but the rift between the two grew wider and wider as the season progressed and the recent disappointing results made the decision to shockingly sack the 67-year-old former Israel national team coach much easier.
He did so in a transatlantic phone call last Monday and two days later named Nitzan Shirazi, who left Hapoel Haifa less than two months ago following a dismal start to the season, as his replacement.
Reds fans were still trying to come to terms with the strange firing of the coach when they discovered how rotten things had become at Hapoel under Tabib’s leadership.
Tel Aviv deteriorated from a state of disarray into complete chaos on Sunday after chairman Doron Osidon, CEO Nir Inbar and press officer Kobby Barda simultaneously resigned in protest of Tabib’s running of the club.
The backbone of Hapoel’s management had been unhappy for a while and especially since Tabib brought in his 23-year-old daughter to monitor every expense, including the amount spent on the purchase of toilet paper.
Inbar claimed that Wizman Yaar Investigations, the company used by the Israel Football Association to look into corruption in local soccer, should probe what is going on at Hapoel.
Inbar, whose own conduct should also be inspected considering his accusations, also said that it was Osidon who was in charge of Kashtan’s sacking, poisoning Tabib against the most decorated coach in Israeli soccer history.
There are no saints in the sad and sudden demise of Hapoel Tel Aviv, but it is Tabib who should shoulder almost all the blame for what has transpired.
Way back in August 2000, District Court Judge Amnon Straschnov ruled that Tabib is not fit to own Hapoel Kfar Saba, saying that his conviction from December 1992 of forging a passport in order to evade border control at Ben-Gurion Airport involved moral turpitude, and therefore he should not be allowed to own a soccer club.
However, for some reason, the IFA continued to let Tabib control the club and allowed him to take over Hapoel Tel Aviv.
As things currently stand, Hapoel fans look set to rue the day Tabib entered their lives for many years to come.
All they want at the moment is for E.T. the owner to exit their club the same way E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial did at the end of the 1982 blockbuster.
They will have to be patient, because the bad news is that it could be a while before the horror film they are living through finally ends.
allon@jpost.com Follow Allon Sinai on Twitter: @AllonSinai