Hapoel Tel Aviv officials ranted and raved yesterday over the officiating of Menashe Mashiah during the team's 2-1 home loss to Maccabi Haifa in Premier League play Monday.
In the waning minutes of the match, Hapoel's Itay Shechter was apparently fouled in front of goal, which would have given his team a penalty kick and almost certainly equalize the match. Moni Harel, the club's chairman, accused Mashiah of being bought on the cheap, and threatened to make sure he would never officiate again. Hapoel coach Eli Guttman echoed the same sentiment, calling the referee "arrogant."
Other Hapoel officials said the poor officiating was part of a chain of decisions meant to break the team. Two weeks ago, the Israel Football Association informed Hapoel it was moving up the team's league match against Hapoel Be'er Sheva because of television considerations. However, club officials say they investigated and discovered the real reason was that Be'er Sheva owner Alona Barkat wanted to attend a Shabbat wedding feast.
As a result, Hapoel had one less day to prepare for its Europa League match against Celtic, which it won anyway. Charlton, the television franchisee broadcasting the match, confirmed that the IFA asked it to reschedule the game. The IFA also refused to move up a Toto Cup match between Hapoel Be'er Sheva and Hapoel Tel Aviv, which Tel Aviv requested in order to lighten its crowded schedule later in the season.
Players did not exactly back their coach's outburst. One player said Guttman shouldn't be making a big deal out of every defeat. "We are a strong team that can run until the end, so there's no point in making a stink early," he said, "especially in front of young players."
Sources close to the club say Guttman got the hint from management to keep a low profile, telling him to concentrate on Hamburg in the Europa League while the club's administration deals with the IFA.
Maccabi Haifa officials, for their part, called for toning down claims of preferred treatment by referees and the IFA, in the wake of the club receiving dozens of letters yesterday full of invective and mudslinging. "It's just a few dozen frustrated fans, who perhaps did this following reactions by Hapoel heads broadcast through the media," said Yaakov Shahar, Maccabi Haifa's president, yesterday. "I also had quite a few phone calls from Hapoel fans who actually congratulated us on the win. There's no need to assign too much importance to these types who are bitter about the score, and allow me not to stoop to their level."
The referee's association struck back yesterday, saying that Avi Nimni was punished for mouthing off at officials and has since learned to keep quiet. "We need to put Guttman and Harel in their place, too," said Ben-Zion Salman, chairman of the association.