Business and Pleasure ? Why Not Have Both?

Sefi Krupsky
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Sefi Krupsky

Hapoel Tel Aviv midfielder Michael Zandberg recently joined forces with Yossi Shivhon of crosstown rival Maccabi to open a wine bar on the city's popular Nahalat Binyamin pedestrian mall.

Time was, when Israel's top athletes were also bus drivers and city hall employees - plying the pitch simply didn't pay the bills. Nowadays, athletes tend to moonlight in the fields of bars, restaurants or retail.

Some enter the business world for the added income or the enjoyment it brings, others with an eye toward sowing the seeds for a post-soccer career.

Zandberg says that for him, starting a business was less a career move than a desire for new experiences and adventure. "It wasn't because I was thinking about the future, or about my retirement," he says.

"I was sitting with a few friends, they brought up the idea of opening a cafe, and I said I was willing to come in as an investor. I don't see a difference between buying an apartment and investing in a business or even being a partner - it's really the same in my opinion," Zandberg says.

I got into business like any other patron, not as an owner, and that's how I look at it. I never came specifically to check the menu, or to watch how the waitresses work," he says.

Yahav Yulzari will never forget the summer of 2005. He was sitting on the team bus of his club then, Bnei Yehuda, making its way to a match in Ashdod.

In the bag of the young substitute goalkeeper was a rental agreement for a store in the Tel Aviv port. Yulzari struggled not to read the contract, but ultimately gave in. The entire ride to Ashdod, he pored over the document, trying to get his head around the agreement's ins and outs.

That evening's match was one of Yulzari's weakest. Before long he left the club, bouncing between a number of other Premier League teams including reigning champion and current leader Maccabi Haifa.

Yulzari, now 24, was once a member of Israel's under-17 national team, and tagged as a keeper of immense potential. But as his professional career dragged on, he found himself spending most of his time on the bench.

"I signed at Hapoel Jerusalem, and during one of my matches there I saw the conditions of the field, and how unprofessional it was, and I decided there was nothing to look for in that kind of place anymore," he says, adding that he felt he was "just wasting time, and losing money that I could be making in business."

This summer, Bnei Yehuda offered him to return to the south Tel Aviv-based club, but Yulzari declined. He has put an early end to his soccer career, and is now entirely focused on his business ventures.

Yulzari's business sense was instilled from an early age at home - his father ran the transportation company "Jack Yulzari Movers."

"Before I was released from the army I already started getting into the real estate field. I bought an apartment as an investment. Then I opened two stores at the Tel Aviv port and on Sheinkin Street," he says. "Nowadays I deal with acquisitions groups, and I also invest in start-ups."

Being both a full-time businessman and full-time soccer player, he says, is simply impossible.

"I decided to take a break from soccer, because it took up most of the hours of the day," he says. There are players who have small businesses that don't require much attention, but that's not so in my case. I have to be available a lot more, and anyway, I believe a soccer player should deal only with soccer."

Yulzari says he would return to soccer only under two conditions: "If they offer me to be the starting keeper at Bnei Yehuda, or if I return to the club as a management partner. I believe the second option will happen much sooner than people think."