Recanati Unplugged: Maccabi Tel Aviv owner opens up on winning, Challenges, Development, Personnel, Euroleague, Israelis and more

Mar 23, 2022 | Holyland Hoops

There’s no question that Maccabi Tel Aviv’s current campaign has been like a rollercoaster, with many ups and many downs but with very little stability or consistency. From battling the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to the mid-season coaching change and now the exclusion of the three Russian teams in the Euroleague, fans and supporters of the club alike have been a true part of this rocky ride as both the domestic and continental seasons head towards the stretch run.

In order to make some sense of the trials and tribulations Maccabi Tel Aviv has been going through, The Sports Rabbi had the unique opportunity to take part in an intimate conversation with one of the club’s owners Udi Recanati, who is part of one of the country’s most prominent families in both the business and philanthropic world. Many topics were covered from the team’s standing amongst the other great European franchises, the appointment of interim coach Avi Even, the standing general manager and sports director Nikola Vujcic as well as how the club will look to compete with the other top teams in both budget and talent going forward.

Udi Recanati

“I don’t like to being up front and prefer to work quietly behind the scenes,” Recanati modesty began. “However, due to the pressure the club has been under recently, it was requested that I talk about our current situation. Firstly, our fans and club as a whole are very important to us. Perhaps at times we aren’t transparent enough, but I’ve been here for many years. While usually Shimon Mizrachi is the one who speaks to the media and the fact that media in general has changed as to how news moves we want to be out in the open so that is why I am here.”


Fans of the team are always looking for the club’s success, but the budget will also potentially dictate that success, “Our budget is in the middle of the Euroleague teams (80-100 million NIS) and we have never been one of the top teams. Real Madrid, Armani Milano, Barcelona and Fenerbahce are teams that are also supported by their football clubs. So it doesn’t matter if they win or lose one season here or there they will always have financial backing.

“We always want to win every game, every championships and every cup domestically and internationally and in fact we are in the top three clubs that have won in Europe. Budget is something that is determined by a number of factors and we build a team in a properly that fits to within our budget. There are times during the season where the staff from Nikola Vujcic to the coaching and scouting staffs may want to add a player and we come to agreement that we will do so. We invested a lot over the years and we will do so in the future as well. This is a very expensive hobby.”

Maccabi Tel Aviv – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

The pandemic hit many businesses around the globe and that was also true in the sports world in as well as Maccabi, “The last two seasons we had to bring the budget down by 20%. But we were still able to have the club compete. We finished in the top 8 in 2020 (the season ended early due to the pandemic and the postseason did not take place) and this season there is still a chance to do so as well. We will battle every second to accomplish that and we will battle hard. We are already starting to build the team for next year with the budget that we are setting and it may go up a bit.”

There have been rumors that the ownership group which includes Recanati, Mizrachi, David Federman as well as Americans Richard Deitz and Ben Ashkenazy may be looking to add more funding but, Recanati says that this is not the case currently, “More money will always be helpful but we have no plans on bringing in another person. We are working every day to help Maccabi succeed and if we need to spend more we will do so. It’s not something that we are planning to do and while there have been some struggles over the last few years, we have won a number of domestic league titles in a row and no other team has done that. So that in itself is a big accomplishment.”

“We have fans that can come to Yad Eliyahu and see some of the best players Europe which is fantastic. But it’s also very hard to play 80 games for the players and staff. We have two teams in essence that play in Israel and in Europe due to the foreigner limitations that we have in the Israeli league. We have three players who can’t play every game.”

Maccabi vs Hapoel – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

One of the biggest disappointments this season has been the fact that Maccabi lost all three Derbies to their bitter city rival in Hapoel Tel Aviv including a knockout game in the State Cup which led to their elimination from the competition.

“Losing to Hapoel Tel Aviv was tough for all of us to take. But we want our fans to be with us during the tough times and to be with us going forward. We feel the pain of the fans, but we need them to be with us and for them to understand that we are doing our utmost. The staff is in touch with all of the fans and season ticket holders and we are very active socially in the community. We see Maccabi not just as a basketball club but much more than that, a Zionist entity. Everyone knows who Maccabi Tel Aviv is and in Europe we are an empire. We want to continue that.”


Ioannis Sfairopoulos was one of the most beloved coaches that the franchise has ever had and the fact that he is not Israeli and fell in love with the country and culture made him even a bigger part of the club. However, due to the troubles the team was having and inconsistency throughout the season, management parted ways and brought in the club’s head of scouting Avi Even to take over the reins on the sidelines.

Even has not been a head coach for more than a couple of games in the past and while he has had a rich history as an assistant coach he diss not have the experience leading a top level European team which has been an issue with many of the club’s supporters.

Ioannis Sfairopoulos – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“We all love and respect Ioannis Sfairpoulos, everyone around the club does, but we were at a point that we were struggling and we had to make a change. Ioannis did everything he could and we sat for hours discussing the future. A number of years ago we had a tough season where we had to bring in four coaches and we knew that this was not where we wanted to go. We knew that we had a number of months left in this season and we thought about our options. On one hand we would have been happy to bring in a top level coach like Ettore Messina, Saras Jasikevicius or Zeljko Obradovic. Those are coaches who we would invest a tremendous amount in.”

“Avi Even did coach Maccabi a bit in the past and was an assistant with Pini Gershon, David Blatt, Guy Goodes and Tzvika Sherf. Oded Katash was a possibility and we all love him as he grew up in Maccabi. But we knew that Avi would be able to acclimate much quicker with the club and had been working with Nikola and the professional staff already. Everyone knew him and he knew all about the team. He fit like a glove. We asked Katash and he didn’t want to come and coach for just a few months until the end of the season which is his right. We asked Avi and he didn’t say yes right away as he was content with his current role. We had to convince him and I’m very happy that he did want to do it. I’m also happy with how things have been going so far.”

“I love Oded Katash and he is someone that I saw grow up and he is a wonderful coach. But he is not one of the top three that I mentioned before. Obradovic once asked me why I never offered him the chance to coach Maccabi and I told him that we couldn’t afford him! We will look at every option going into next season.”

אבי אבן

Avi Even – Photo Credit: Maccabi Tel Aviv

While Even is an interim coach which allows Maccabi the option at the end of the season to see which direction they would want to go, Recanati would not rule out the idea of him staying on in the role next year.

“There is always a possibility. We have seen him on the sidelines and against Beer Sheva the team lost and many people suffered from that defeat. We all know that these things can happen. I wrote to Avi the next morning that we have to look ahead and not back. Now while Galil Elyon isn’t Real Madrid or Milano, when I saw that game I felt there was a good vibe within the team and that was key. We were only going to sign a coach until the end of the season and we wanted to leave us the right to build a new club should we want to do so. Ultimately, the coach is the one who makes the final decision and has the power to do so.”

A number of years ago, Maccabi discussed the idea of having two separate squads, one that would compete in the Euroleague and the other that would play in the Israeli league. While the amount of games the team is playing makes competing at the highest level challenging, having two teams is not on the agenda.

“I don’t believe that this is in the DNA of the club to split the team into two. One day if there were 24 teams in the Euroleague I know for sure that we wouldn’t be able to deal with the pressure of having only one squad play in both but for right now it’s not being discussed.”


Maccabi Tel Aviv has had an issue keeping players on the team after developing them for one or two seasons. That includes both foreigners as well as Israelis as we saw a number of players depart the club over the last few seasons. Recanati acknowledged that this is certainly something the club is struggling with but they are working on trying to find solutions as well.

Elijah Bryant – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“If we could keep a nucleus of 4-5 players for a number of years that would have been able to temper down some of the issues that we have had recently. In the past we did have that nucleus and we are always trying to do so. Scottie Wilbekin has been here for four years and is signed for a 5th. We worked with Elijah Bryant and Tyler Dorsey developing them and then they left for more money. We are counting on Iftach Ziv who is acclimating to the club and he came here to Maccabi which is a pressure cooker where everyone wants to win every game. We all want to succeed and keep the players but as every year goes by it’s harder and harder.”

“If you look at the last two seasons with Corona, the NBA teams signed players from Europe for ten days because they needed to fill the places for other players who were out sick. Sometimes the players stayed on a little longer and in other cases they didn’t. But this is something that we have to deal with because the finances that there are in the NBA are more than clubs in Europe can handle. We look for players who have potential and develop them with us. But what’s hard to see is that after we worked with them, they then move to other teams. We will need to figure out how to handle these situations going forward and as always there are new issues that occur all of the time that need to be dealt with.”

One of the constant complaints that fans have is the lack of Israelis that are playing for Maccabi and Sabras that can really contribute to the team’s success. Recanati noted that while the yellow-and-blue have a number of Israelis the same issue is true with clubs from other countries.

“It’s hard for me to find Italians when I see Milano and that’s true for the Spanish and Turkish teams as well as others. I would love to see five Israelis on the court at all times. But in order to compete in Europe you need players that can compete at the highest of levels. When I see one or two Israelis on the court I’m happy. But we also have a team that needs to win games. The coach will select the players who can give the most to the team and that is a challenge when we have a roster of 14 players. We are always looking at which Israelis are playing outside of Maccabi and in Europe as well. We want the best Israelis with Maccabi.”

Yovel Zoosman – Photo Credit: ALBA Berlin

In the specific cases of Yovel Zoosman and Yam Madar, both are not at Maccabi Tel Aviv with the former leaving to play in Germany and the latter plying his trade in Serbia with Coach Obradovic and Partizan Belgrade.

“I sat with Zoosman and his parents for hours but he wanted a new experience which wasn’t related to money. He wanted to do something new and different. Maybe in the future he will return to the club down the line. As for Yam Madar, he isn’t at Maccabi not because of us and perhaps not because of himself. We all know that he is a good player. Hopefully one day he will be with Maccabi. It’s also an issue right now that we have players in his position like John DiBartolomeo and Iftach Ziv.”


Another contentious issue among the fanbase has been that of sports director Nikola Vujcic. There have been question marks about numerous players that he has brought into the club and the success that the team has had over the past number of seasons. While Vujcic is approaching a decade with the club in a management role, Recanati is not guaranteeing that he will still be with the club, however, there is much appreciation for his work and how he has handled his role.

“Anything can happen and we look at each individual and there are no untouchables. Nikola has won a number of titles and was one of the club’s great players. He is much more than just a sports director, people know him from all around the world and he has a lot going for him. He knows a tremendous amount in basketball and has contacts with the agents as well executives. He is a tough and knows how to negotiate a contract.”

Nikola Vujcic – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

“In his first season, the club won the Euroleague title and since then we won titles in Israel and also reached the top 8 in 2020. But as we look at next season, we want to have the freedom to choose the next coach and build a very good team. There are no untouchables and if we feel that Nikola or anyone else isn’t doing their role to the best of their abilities, then we will see what we will do at the end of the season.”

“Prior to Nikola there was no sports director and he was the first person who was in the specific role. I’m also someone who is never satisfied. I want to win every single title and cup possible. Is it realistic? I’m not so sure. If we feel that there will be a person who can do a better job then we will consider it. But Nikola has a standing with the club and he is someone who can challenge and work with the coach on every single issue.”


The Euroleague has had its own challenges over the past number of seasons from having to cancel the 2020 campaign due to the pandemic and now it will finish this current season without the there Russian clubs after they were withdrawn from the competition due to the ongoing conflict with Ukraine. While there has been some instability with the league, Maccabi has been constantly trying to improve it as well.

“We are always trying to be more active in the Euroleague, improve its standing and how to work on the competitiveness going forward. As for next season, we don’t know even what will be next week due to the war that is going on with Russia and Ukraine. There are three important clubs in Russia who have their own issues and they are in a super tough position. Hopefully this war will come to an end and things will return to how it had been in the past but we will wait and see. Sports aren’t a business and no team in the Euroleague makes money.”

Udi Recanati – Photo Credit: Dov Halickman

As for the possibility of working together with the NBA, according to Recanati the Euroleague isn’t currently on the top of its pecking order, “In the past, Maccabi played a number of games against NBA teams which raised the profile of the club and those were some very good games for our fans in Cleveland and Brooklyn. One day we thought that there would be some kind of collaboration between the Euroleague and NBA, but really it’s more of a dream. The Euroleague is a different style of basketball and in fact it takes time for American players to get used to the play here. Right now the NBA feels that there is more potential in China than in Europe.”

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