Fit to be Tied: Beitar Jerusalem, Hapoel Tel Aviv & the Eyal Berkovic Saga

Beitar Jerusalem 1-1 Hapoel Tel Aviv

Not much of a football game is what we got last night at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem. Big soccer was no where to be found in the vicinity of the largest stadium currently in use in Israel. What we got was two teams fighting for their lives between supporters, management and ownership. A power struggle going on among those in red and those in yellow & black. Nothing more and nothing less.

Ramzi Sfori scored the Hapoel goal off a free kick from Shai Abutbol and Tal Kahila headed in a Claudemir Ferreira da Silva free kick to split the points evenly down the middle. What we also saw was mediocrity at its finest between two sides that were absolutely fit to be tied. Major work needs to be put into both of these rosters and on the practice fields. Beitar Jerusalem saw very little creativity and service coming from their midfielders with the strikers left hung out to dry most of the match and the same can be said about Hapoel Tel Aviv. Surprisingly, Beitar sits in 4th place while Hapoel is in 8th but the point differential between the two is just 3 points. Mediocrity at its best that 9 teams are within 5 points!

As always, a match between bitter rivals takes center stage not only on the pitch but off of it as well. Between Beitar owner Eli Tabib and his coach Menachem Koretzky. Between Hapoel’s technical director Eyal Berkovic and ownership group headed by Haim Ramon. Between both camps with rumours swirling that Koretzky would change sides and coach the Reds. And of course how about Member of Knesset and Minister Avigdor Liberman and his entourage filming a documentary, commercial or whatever. It seemed that all the characters were center stage, except for the ones that should have been. The ones surrounded by the supporters, the players on the field of play and not off of it.

Hapoel Tel Aviv had a few new faces and some old familiar ones in their lineup Monday night. Cameroonian ‘keeper Apoula Edel, who played with the club between 2011-13 made his return between the pipes or posts for Hapoel and was a welcome sight to try and settle down the backside of the once proud franchise. Along with Edel, Amido Baldé & Dudu Biton both made their debut for the Tel Aviv attack that most desperately needed a boost and change of scenery. Baldé on loan from Celtic and Biton also on loan from Standard Liege will hopefully over time breathe new life into a stagnant offense.

The real question is who orchestrated the moves?

Was it Berkovic who just resigned this morning by sending an SMS to Ramon calling him a “Punk Coward”? Obviously very little love has been lost between the one time Israeli great and the one time great club. Was there a power struggle going on behind the scenes? That’s for certain. Who was calling the shots? That’s still not known, but when Berkovic’s ability to determine which players and the future of his struggling coach Asi Domb would be coming and going was curbed he put himself curbside and out the door. Was there any way for Berkovic to succeed? Possibly if he would have been able to just be a “Yes Man” which if one knows this person’s history knows that the chances of that ever happening was zero to nil. Berkovic had made it crystal clear as a blue sky that the minute he couldn’t make football decisions and would be overruled he would leave. And that’s what he did saying so in an interview with that Ido Hagag one of the people in the ownership group would not approve the firing of coach Domb and because of that he was out.

Who could blame Berkovic for wanting to let go of Domb, the club had won only once in 9 matches! The only thing that Berkovic can be blamed for here is for keeping his manager choice in the job for so long when it was obvious to all those around Football Israel that Domb had no place in Ligat Ha’Al.

Beitar Jerusalem has been going through almost the same situation with a public spat between coach Koretzky and owner Tabib. Koretzky plays a very conservative game and wants to get results out of his players. Tabib wants to get results but also see some of his investment flourish and grow in order to turn a profit down the road by selling players. Sometimes that can be a recipe for disaster if the owner plays general manager, scout and decision maker of who should be on the pitch or not. A perfect way to ruin a relationship with a manager.

This would of course upset Koretzky when he is being told which players need to play and possibly even when to play. However, the problem is even deeper than that. Koretzky came from Raanana which of course is not even close to the scale of Beitar in fan support, media scrutiny, operational size and history. Not an easy change for one to make. Koretzky faces pressures coming from all sides as well as from an owner who is known to be demanding. Yet another challenge.

But it looks like Koretzky has weathered that storm after publicly apologizing to Eli Tabib after the match on national TV and that’s the difference between the Beitar manager and an all time great in Berkovic. One must kowtow to his boss while the other can pick up and says goodbye.

What is next for the saga of Eyal Berkovic? One can only wonder where he will land up. Will it be back on the radio? In football management? The private sector? Time will tell where Berkovic will go, but what is clear is that he will only go and do where he has 100% control. That’s something Berkovic can afford, but not Koretzky.

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