Soccer / Beitar Jerusalem on the Money Trail in Chechnya

The smiles in Grozny belied a struggle to strengthen the Israeli team before the transfer window closes.

Jan Talesnikov, coach Eli Cohen's assistant at Beitar Jerusalem, served as a translator during the team's trip to Chechnya this week.

Talesnikov translated what the billionaire owner of Russian Premier League team Terek Grozny, Telman Ismailov, had to say, while dropping broad hints about the importance of Beitar buying new players before the January transfer window closes. Talesnikov, a former Beitar Jerusalem and Israeli international star who emigrated from the former Soviet Union, also described for the visitors life in Chechnya and met the local Jewish community.

The assistant coach had a chance to let off steam at Ben-Gurion International Airport before the flight to Chechnya, sending a clear message to anyone who criticizes the trip in the middle of the season.

"We're doing holy work at Beitar," Talesnikov told journalists. "Everybody knows what the team was and what it is today. It has gone from a team that no player wanted to join and whose fans deserted it to the most attractive team in Israeli soccer. We have a way. There is a way and no one, with all due respect to the critics, will change that. If there's someone who wants to help us, why shouldn't we go?"

After a year as head coach, Cohen met team owner Arcadi Gaydamak last week for the first time - which shows how disconnected the owner has been from the club until recently. Cohen told Gaydamak that the trip wasn't good for the team in soccer terms, but if it could boost the club by adding another player, the benefit would outweigh the downside.

When asked why he didn't veto the trip, the coach replied: "Everybody knows what terrible financial shape the club is in. If this three-day trip could help improve the situation, it would certainly be worthwhile. Apart from that, the team has an owner and he decided that the team should leave for a friendly game. So what's the problem here? The owner decides, and that's what we do."

Meanwhile, the players enjoyed the junket, had their pictures taken, suffered from the cold and played a dull goalless draw with Terek Grozny. But behind the scenes a struggle took place between club chairman Itzik Kornfein, who sees no need for a substantial strengthening of the squad during the transfer window, and two club officials who are pressing for exactly that.

Kornfein would suffice with signing Maccabi Haifa forward Alon Turgeman, while Cohen wants to bring in a high-level foreign striker. Kornfein isn't willing to allocate more than NIS 300,000 to strengthen the squad, while the striker that Cohen is interested in is demanding NIS 500,000.

Club officials are trying to persuade Kornfein that if the team reaches the playoff stage, it stands to profit by more than NIS 200,000 from hosting the country's three top sides - Hapoel and Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa.

Nimrod Glikman