Guttman Resides in Spin City

Hapoel Tel Aviv is not so much a soccer team as a battle zone.

At a certain stage you get lost. Go figure which spin is being used this time at Hapoel Tel Aviv and who is behind it.

Hapoel Tel Aviv is not so much a soccer team as a battle zone. The only question is whether the knife will be stabbed in the front or through the back. That there will be a stabbing is clear.

The owners hate one another and use every weapon at their disposal to hatch plots that will harm their partner - the players against management, which isn't meeting its commitments; the fans against part of management; coach Eli Guttman against the owners.

This week, for example, coach Guttman created a spin around the promise he supposedly got of a bonus of half a million dollars should the team advance to the Champions League. Eli Tabib certainly said it wasn't him. Moni Harel explained that he said this as a fan and not as an owner. Suddenly, Kiryat Shmona's big win Saturday over the double titlist looked trivial.

And yet, the greatest failure of the moment belongs to Guttman. In the days when management still functioned, Guttman got almost everything he wanted. They left him goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, Douglas Da Silva, Gil Vermouth and Itay Shechter. They brought in at his request Yossi Shivhon, Bevan Fransman, Romain Rocchi, Ben Shahar, Salim Toama and Toto Tamuz.

Guttman couldn't shield his players from the battles, failed to find a solution to the team's embarrassing defense and is struggling to navigate between international and local competition, even though he has at his disposal one of the most impressive rosters the club and the Premier League have ever known. Instead of leading the way and functioning as an island of sanity in the sea of chaos washing over Hapoel Tel Aviv, Guttman is trying to please everybody and is being swept away with the rest of them. Not that he ever was the leader, if that's any consolation for him.

Dropping points should be the least of Hapoel's worries - and don't worry, the system of cutting points in half before the playoffs is still in place. The loss of its intimidating factor should be of concern. A club that just a month ago was being tapped to be Israel's newest dynasty or at least a dominant force over the next five years, is falling apart in repulsive fashion, too publicly and too quickly.

The fact that there is no apparent victor or somebody rising to the occasion just amplifies the feeling that the worst is yet to come. Lyon, Hapoel's Champions League opponent tomorrow, and the derby in a couple of weeks could be the catalysts of the team losing its way. Who is to blame? That depends on whose spin you believe.