Restoring an Israeli flavor to Maccabi Tel Aviv has been a stated goal of management ever since last month's heartbreaking Super League final loss to Hapoel Gilboa/Galil. This is the new company line which head coach David Blatt signed onto earlier this week. With the re-acquisition yesterday of Tal Burstein, who signed a three-year contract on Tuesday, Maccabi has fired the first salvo in the battle for the hearts and minds of its disgruntled fan base.
"Both sides wanted this and the negotiations were concluded very quickly," Burstein told Haaretz. "I'm happy to be coming back and getting the chance to work with David Blatt, Derrick Sharp, and the rest of the mates."
The Burstein signing is management's response to criticism that last season's roster had failed to include an Israeli identity. "I can't comment on the criticism, but I do think that Maccabi's foundation certainly needs to be Israeli," the swingman said. "We need top Israelis who will stick with the club for years. It is the Israelis who know what Maccabi means, the importance of every game and every championship."
Burstein, who returns to Yad Eliahu after one season with Spanish club Fuenlabrada, said he wants to send this message both to fans and foreign players who join Maccabi. "Obviously picking the right foreign players, not just from a basketball standpoint but also when it comes to issues of character and chemistry, can also lift the club," Burstein stressed.
Burstein also said he believes that center Yaniv Green will remain with the team for next season. Green's days at Maccabi were considered numbered after an interview in which he blasted the team for what he considered shabby treatment of its Israeli players.
Since Blatt's hiring, he has had numerous talks with Burstein in an effort to persuade him to don the yellow jersey once again. "The key change that happened within me leading to my signing occurred primarily after my conversations with Blatt," he said. "Before we reached agreement, it was important for me to listen and to understand what role the team had in mind for me."
Burstein said Blatt told he he would play a crucial role next season and that the coach is relying on him both on the court and in the locker room. "This was something that was very important for me to hear," he said.
Blatt could not conceal his excitement at the prospect of coaching his former pupil once again. "This was one of the first things that was important for me to do upon my return to the club," the coach said. "I personally like Tal very much and he is an important part of Maccabi Tel Aviv."
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