Soccer / Hapoel Tel Aviv / New Top Dog and His Deputy Come to Town

Sefi Krupsky
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Sefi Krupsky

Some people dream about managing a soccer club, but few people dream about managing two at the same time. In the past few months, Gabi Katzera has become one of the busiest people in Israeli soccer. From his office in Kfar Sava he runs not only the local Hapoel, but also keeps a close check on Hapoel Tel Aviv, where he already functions as an unofficial director.

Katzera is the eyes and ears of Eli Tabib, the businessman and current chairman of Hapoel Kfar Sava, who is in advanced talks to purchase Hapoel Tel Aviv. Tabib and Katzera have been working together since 2001, when Tabib was forced to step down temporarily as chairman of Hapoel Kfar Sava due to a prior criminal conviction. Tabib asked two colleagues to take the reins, and one of them brought in Katzera.

"He's got a cool head," a Kfar Sava official said of Katzera. "He met with Tabib, who was looking for a caretaker for the club. For Katzera, that was like a godsend."

Tabib and Katzera immediately became close partners, so much so that in 2005, when the latter got into a serious confrontation with Tabib's brother, the Hapoel Kfar Sava chairman sacked his kin instead of Katzera. Club sources say Tabib and his brother haven't spoken since.

The key to the partnership's success is that each knows his place, an official at Kfar Sava says.

For instance, when Hapoel Kfar Sava was facing relegation from the Premier League in 2006, Katzera wanted to fire coach Eli Ohana to shake things up. But Tabib - who is a friend of Ohana - expressed his opposition, and the coach stayed on until the club was relegated at the end of the season.

In a similar incident, Tabib ignored Katzera's subtle request that he refrain from sitting on the bench with the team during matches, because he believed it had a negative influence on the players' performance. Katzera had a special VIP area built up in the stands, hoping to persuade Tabib to sit there instead of on the bench. Tabib initially tried the new arragement but within two weeks he was back on the pitch next to the players.

"Make no mistake, Tabib made Katzera," a friend of Tabib's said. "He is the one with the money, and thanks to him Katzera is driving a Mercedes, not the other way around."

Katzera runs the shop during Tabib's frequent business trips to the U.S. That's how it has been at Kfar Sava, and that's how it will be at Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Over the years, he has earned a reputation as being something of a problem solver. When Hapoel Tel Aviv's Samuel Yeboah failed to return from a visit to his native Ghana as expected, Katzera spoke to the striker and promised he would not be disciplined for going AWOL. Also, he became a close personal friend of another foreign player at Hapoel Tel Aviv, Douglas de Silva, helping him to acclimatize to Israel.

Although Tabib is not yet the official owner of Hapoel Tel Aviv, and Katzera is not its official director, both are already acting as though they were, and calling all the shots at the club. Club fans will have to get used to the duo's presence at the Bloomfield Stadium home ground.