Fear and loathing at Beitar Jerusalem
Team coach Eli Cohen says club interfered with his use of two key players, wants to fire him.
Beitar Jerusalem coach Eli Cohen says club managers and finance officials have been meddling in the way he uses his players and have threatened him with dismissal.
Cohen, who took up his post in February and saved Beitar from relegation, told Haaretz that these people had threatened him with the sack if he failed to follow their demands.
But Cohen insists he will continue to resist any pressure. "It's very difficult for a coach to act independently in Israeli soccer nowadays," he says.
"Even when Moshe Dadash was [chairman at] Beitar, no one dared approach him or the coach and demand that certain players be used. Maccabi Tel Aviv fired me because I refused to field players whose fathers donated funds to the team, so these people believe they can threaten me?"
Beitar Jerusalem rejects Cohen's allegations. "Beitar has only one individual in charge of all professional decisions, and that is the coach," the team says. "All decisions concerning signings, releasing players and using players are his alone."
According to Cohen, the pressure to fire him began last season after his decision to release Brazilian striker Leonardo Pasus, who joined Hapoel Acre this season.
Cohen says certain people are doing their best to remove him from his post.
"As long as I faced these problems alone and nobody knew about them, I remained silent," Cohen told a Beitar official last week. "But the moment this behavior became more vocal and began to damage the club, it was time to put people in their place. I won't allow any special interests to damage my work at Beitar. For me, Beitar is home. For them, it's another means to promote their interests. No on will force me to change my decision, not even by threatening me."
Last week, Beitar's fans' association released a statement in support of Cohen. "We're proud the club has a strong professional at the helm who doesn't cave to pressure," the fans said.
That day, players also approached Cohen to show their support. Team captain Amit Ben Shushan released a statement of support.
While praising club chairman Itzik Kornfein and club owner Arcadi Gaydamak, Cohen said that in the past few months he has been under severe pressure.
It began last season when Pasus and Beitar's Nigerian midfielder Harmony Ikande were arrested and charged in a non-soccer-related issue. Cohen immediately released the two players, to the chagrin of Gal Yossef, Gaydamak's adviser on sports issues.
After Cohen's decision, Kornfein was summoned to Yossef and told to fire Cohen. Kornfein refused. Ikande left Israel, but the pressure concerning Pasus intensified.
The Pasus saga repeated this year in the persons of Ofir Amram and Liron Diamant. Amram is the future son-in-law of an owner of the Eldan car rental company, Momi Dahan. Eldan was a chief Beitar sponsor for years, and its owners, especially Dahan, have formed a close relationship with Beitar officials.
Diamant is the son of Israel Diamant, who owns a successful advertisement firm and is a close friend of Dahan. Diamant often hosts Beitar players and staff. He donated money to Maccabi Tel Aviv when his son played for the youth team, and after negotiations with then-owner Eli Tabib, Liron almost joined Hapoel Tel Aviv. But Hapoel's coach at the time, Dror Kashtan, vetoed the deal.
Both players joined Beitar at the beginning of last season, with two-year contracts.
Cohen, who had no part in the signing of the two, says that whenever one of them wasn't playing, he would receive endless text messages, including threats that he would be fired. Beitar officials tried to persuade Cohen to play them, explaining that Eldan had invested millions of shekels in Beitar over the years and that Dahan had huge influence at the club.
At the beginning of this season, Cohen told Diamant and Amram that they should find another team, since he wasn't interested in their services.
"We can't release them," he was told. "Their contracts run another year." Cohen insisted that he had no use for the two players.
Again, Cohen was flooded by phone calls and text messages claiming that he would be fired. At the same time, media reported that Eldan would stop its sponsorship deal with the club.
Despite being told by Cohen that they should find another team, both players refused. Once, 10 minutes after talking to Diamant, Cohen received a phone call from Yossef, who was already aware of the conversation and tried to persuade Cohen to change his mind.
Before leaving for preseason training in Germany, Cohen again tried to persuade the two players to find another team, but they again refused. Eldan then announced that it would not continue the sponsorship deal with Beitar.
Still, Dahan donated a symbolic sum of money to the club and was appointed to the club board by a group of businessmen. At training camp, Diamant scored two goals against teams from the fourth and fifth leagues in Germany, and his relatives immediately inquired if Cohen had changed his mind. He hadn't.
One day, while in his hotel room, Cohen was told that a guest was waiting in the hotel lobby. It was Yossef. The conversation was terse. Later, Cohen heard that Diamant's father had also visited training camp.
Upon returning to Israel, Cohen asked the two players to leave for the third time. Again, they refused. In the second game of the season, Cohen was in the stands after having been thrown out of the first game. Diamant came in as a substitute in the second half but didn't follow the orders of Cohen's assistant, Jean Talasnikov. After the game, Cohen suspended the player.
Diamant has since moved on to Maccabi Herzliya. Amram is still at Beitar.
The players and officials in their own words
Liron Diamant: "You can write whatever you want, even that I play only thanks
to my father. In Herzliya I have two goals in two games is that because of
my father? I believe I can play for Beitar, and the statistics support my
claim. I refuse to answer any questions about Gal Yossef or my father."
Israel Diamant: "I have a long relationship with Gal Yossef. If he really
exerted influence at Beitar, Liron would have stayed."
Momi Dahan: "[Eli Cohen] has done his best to find players and the starting
11, including players who haven't played for ages, but can't find a place forOfir Amram, one of Beitar's best players at training sessions. Now that I'm a
member of the board, I will demand explanations about Beitar's form this
season, and for the reasons Ofir isn't getting a chance to play despite his
record. You should see him in training he's number one.
"Of course, I'm annoyed he isn't playing, but I'm not pressuring Cohen on the
matter. If I wanted, Ofir would play, and Eli Cohen wouldn't be Beitar's coach
anymore. If I wanted, I would summon Cohen and Kornfein and tell them my
opinion and get it over with. [Eldan] has also decided to cut our contract
with the Ashkelon basketball team. The decision to sever ties with Beitar was
purely financial and has nothing to do with anything else."
Beitar Jerusalem: "Liron Diamant joined the team as a young promising player.
His father purchased seats in the honorary stands, paying NIS 45,000, an
unsubstantial sum as far as the club is concerned. This had no bearing on
signing the player.
"Gal Yossef has no official role at Beitar and has no influence on signing or
fielding players. As for Pasus, Cohen made his decision without any influence
from any other party, even though Pasus played a large part in saving the team
from relegation. According to the information received from the police, the
case against him was closed without an indictment."
Momi Dahan and Beitar Jerusalem declined to allow Ofir Amram to respond. Gal
Yossef declined to comment.