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Two years ago, Elisha Levy - then coach of Bnei Sakhnin and today of Maccabi Haifa - demoted Ali Ottman to Sakhnin's under-19 club. This summer, ahead of Haifa's UEFA Champions League group-stage campaign, Levy found himself fighting tooth and nail against two top-tier Tel Aviv teams, Maccabi and Hapoel, to get the defender back.

On Sunday, Levy's Maccabi Haifa bought the 21-year-old back for $500,000 and 10 percent of the value of Ottman's future transfer cost to a European team.

A chance encounter between Levy and the player's father, Mashur Ottman, paved the way for the transfer.

"This season," Levy told the elder Ottman, "your son is playing for me. No matter what, I'm bringing him to play in Haifa."

"It's a dream come true," said Ali Ottman. "I always dreamed of coming to Maccabi Haifa, but I didn't think it could happen to me at such a young age."

In just two weeks, Ottman could suit up against European titan Bayern Munich at Ramat Gan National Stadium, but before he does, he'll have to overcome a potentially even more threatening hurdle by the name of Eyal Meshumar - Haifa's current right back.

"He knows it won't be easy," Mashur Ottman said. "But he has all the will and the strength to fight for a place on the roster. He believes in himself and will prove his abilities through hard work and faith."

Had the powers that be in Haifa known all along that Ottman's value would appreciate to half a million dollars, they never would have let him get away in the first place.

The defender joined Haifa's youth system when he was only 10, after a coach of one of its youth squads tempted him to leave his hometown side of Sakhnin. It's not that Haifa didn't recognize his talent - it simply grew tired of providing his family with financial support, including the constant travel between Sakhnin and Maccabi's training facilities in Kiryat Haim.

"The financial difficulty was huge," recalled Mashur Ottman, who works as a cook for a catering company. "We had a lot of expenses."

Ottman's then-coach at Sakhnin, Razik Genaim, says the player was hugely talented at a very young age.

"The potential was there already from a young age," Genaim said. "We worked with him a lot on confidence and trust, so that he'd be able to fulfill his potential."

The work paid off, and Ottman was soon invited to join the under-19 national team. His coach there, Ze'ev Seltzer, recalled, "He had all the classic qualities of a European defender: physicality, determination and speed."

The young player's fatal flaw, Seltzer believes, is his temper. Last season Ottman accumulated 10 yellow cards. "I had a lot of talks with him about calming down. He would commit a lot of fouls because he was overzealous. He needs to be more thoughtful and less impulsive," Seltzer said.

The task of taming Ali Ottman now falls back to Elisha Levy.

Haifa's latest signing, 19-year-old defensive midfielder Tiago Da Silva Dutra, landed in Israel yesterday. Sources at the club say they hope Dutra, on one-year loan from the B-team of Spanish giant Villarreal, will be able to shore up the club's sometimes shaky back midfield, anchored by Biram Kayal and John Culma.

"I won't miss a single match against Juventus or Bayern Munich," said the Brazilian upon landing, referring to Haifa's upcoming Champions League foes.

Dutra takes the place of Nigerian national Yero Bello, who yesterday sealed a deal with crosstown rival and Premier League neophyte Hapoel Haifa.