Having hoisted the Adriatic League trophy on Monday, Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach David Blatt had time yesterday to drop some very broad hints about the near-perennial Premier League champion's future.
"One of two things have to happen - either the Premier League will accept us later in the season, at the playoff stage, so that we can play in the Adriatic League, or we'll play in only two leagues. You can guess which ones," he said. Club chairman Shimon Mizrahi and owner David Federman have said Maccabi will play next year in the Euroleague and one other competition - either the Adriatic League or Israel's own Premier League.
"I don't understand why a team with funds and ability has to suffer," Blatt continued. "I don't understand why I have to play with only four foreign players when I have more at my disposal. Weakening instead of strengthening is not the right way. Another solution must be found."
Team manager Gur Shelef added his voice to the chorus, saying: "One thing is certain - Maccabi will play next season in two leagues. It's not clear at this stage which ones."
Other Premier League teams slammed Maccabi over the threats.
Haim Ohayon, owner of Gilboa/Galil, said: "Their behavior is strange and impulsive. It's only because of the victory in the Adriatic League that they allow themselves to say such things. If that's their intention, let them change their fans and even their country. Something is wrong here. The team's chairman received the Israel Prize, and now they want to desert the country. All these years we took Maccabi into consideration - no budget limit, no wage cap, they can bring whoever they want. We're open to suggestions and don't want to go against Maccabi, but somebody is trying to throw his weight around. If Maccabi decides not to compete, the league will continue without them. It won't close."
Members of the Premier League's management committee fired back at Blatt. "He's forgotten that there are other teams in the league with their own needs," said Hagai Segal, deputy general manager for communications. "Blatt, with his chutzpah, speaks about playing in two leagues but leaves the question of which ones open. If that's not a threat, what is it?"
Another Premier League team chairman said: "There's no way we'll let Maccabi join the Premier League in the middle of the season. It won't happen. If they don't want to play in the league, then they shouldn't. But I don't believe they'll desert the Premier League. It's just a tactic to apply pressure over the playoffs and the number of foreign players."
Tonight at 7 P.M., Maccabi begins its Premier League quarterfinal series against Habikaa at the Yad Eliahu arena. Will this be its last playoff game in Israel?
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