Ozzy Neav



The worst scenario in any football league is a one horse race. Beitar Jerusalem, the IPL (Israeli Premier League) title holders, are running away from the rest of the Israeli Football pack yet again.

While this is a cause for joyous celebration in many a Jerusalem café, there are those on the outside who aren’t exactly over the moon. Indeed, the rest of Israeli football is turning a worried eye over to the capital. Their fears and anxiety worsen as the stark realisation of the inevitable slowly dawns upon them. Beitar is on the verge of crippling dominance over the IPL and there is no one who can possibly stop them.

It all started with the addition of Russian oligarch Arkady Gaydamak and his bouts of temporary insanity where finances are concerned. Beitar’s annual budget is at least triple when compared to the club with the second highest budget, Maccabi Haifa. The Greens were once considered the “rich boys” of Israeli Football and club owner Jacob Sachar was loved by all in the port city. Members of Israeli Football were respectful of Sachar for the most part and admired his football wisdom.

Gaydamak however, makes Sachar look like a destitute beggar. Yet he has created a mostly silent, but growing opposition with his arguably snobbish behaviour and a perceived lack of public etiquette. Dislike Gaydamak they may, but the Israeli public is fully aware of the awesome power Gaydamak not only wields in football circles, but in local society as well. 

Imagine for a second, a hypothetical situation were a rich entity of some kind, be it a person or corporation, suddenly purchased Grasshoppers Zurich in
Switzerland and gave them a budget equivalent to that of Barcelona. The Swiss league would undoubtedly change overnight. Unless strict policies were instilled by the governing body, that entity would hold supreme over all others, possible for many years. That is the biggest fear of Israeli Football coaches, board members and fans. Gaydamak flexes his economic and political muscle far too often for their liking.

A quick glance at the league table may cause those unfamiliar with Israeli football to wonder what all the fuss is about. Beitar is only eight and nine points up on Maccabi Netanya and Haifa respectively. With the Israeli Premier League at around the midway point in the season, it would appear as if the teams chasing Beitar still have a legitimate outside chance at the league title.

While the chance of such an event blossoming into fruition mathematically exists, there is a greater chance of Brittany Spears not checking herself into a rehab clinic sometime over the next sixth months. The reason Beitar is almost uncatchable is twofold: 1) They won’t lose enough ground for other teams to catch up, 2) Not one team in the IPL is good enough to catch them.

The grievous result of Gaydamak’s poaching and pillaging of Israeli football has drastically reduced the domestic options available to first division sides. In plain English: Beitar got stronger and everyone else got weaker. Not only is Beitar dominating the domestic player market, it is also the most capable in bringing in high class foreigners that are unaffordable by other clubs.

Take for example Ghanaian defensive midfielder Derek Boateng. Boateng, who used to play for Greek side Panathinaikos, is the most expensive foreign import in Israeli football history. No other club would be able to afford such an expensive foreign player, even in their wildest dreams.

In times of crisis, those who feel threatened tend to ban together for support. Leading this silent movement is the Luzon Family. The owners of IPL side Maccabi Petah-Tikva have been at odds with Beitar prior to Gaydamak’s arrival. Avi Luzon is currently the reigning chairman of the IFA (Israeli Football Association) and has not been afraid to use his considerable influence to butt heads with Gaydamak when he felt it was necessary.

The Luzons however, are considered the black sheep of Israeli football, due to their rumoured connections with Columbian drug lords and other unsavoury elements. Maccabi Petah-Tikva also possess the lowest average attendance in the IPL, which leads to shrinking influence in the IFA, even with Avi Luzon in a position of power.

It remains to be seen if other elements in the IFA and IPL are willing to support the Luzons’ resistance. Whether or not Beitar needs to be contained and restricted in any form is entirely debatable.

What isn’t debatable is that the IFA, club owners and fans need to decide what kind of domestic league they want. Then and only then can the required steps be taken to insure prosperous Israeli football for years to come.