Hapoel Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem suffered traumatic summers, but only Beitar emerged hungry.
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In the past two months, Beitar Jerusalem coach Eli Cohen has been pleading with his chairman, Itzik Kornfein, to add another striker to his squad. Kornfein is listening, but, nonetheless, he's still afraid to act.
At the end of the summer, Kornfein believed – with good reason – that Beitar would struggle against relegation thanks to its depleted squad. Cohen, either because of an unending belief or in an attempt to make his players think positive, spoke from the start of a top six finish. Cohen's professional attitude, coupled with the good form of his players, managed to lead the club to the fourth place. The question at Bayit Vegan, Beitar's training complex, is now "where do we go from here?"
Cohen is well-known for his principles, but even he knows that Beitar is limited financially, and he must be flexible, even if it means schlepping to team to a superfluous fundraising game in Chechnya. Such moves, he hopes, might eventually get Kornfein to run out of excuses and rummage up the resources for the striker he so desperately needs.
Beitar's success, though, gives Kornfein reason to insist that such a move is financially reckless. Looking at the table, Kornfein can point that, striker or no striker, Beitar's attack is the second-best in the league. Only Maccabi Tel Aviv is better. And that argument isn't easy to counter.
Beitar's players work their socks off for every goal, and take a gamble with almost every attack, committing defensive players to help out on the other side of the pitch. Cohen, and his fitness coach Roni Hilel, have earned their compliments fairly. Beitar's advantage, compared with other teams, lies with its organized game and the automatic understanding between the players. Throw in the fact that Beitar's players hardly ever give away the ball, and are focused in front of the goal. Beitar can boast many great teams in its past, but it seems that this one is so motivated, its heart it probably the largest of them all.
Yossi Abukasis, Hapoel Tel Aviv's coach, enjoys the services of a wonderful striking force that includes Omer Damari, Toto Tamuz and Tal Ben Haim. On the other hand, he lacks a system that would allow the threesome to make the most of their talent.
Even worse, his team, as a whole, seems extinguished. Hapoel's bland performances stand out in comparison with Beitar's liveliness, since both clubs got beaten up over the summer, but only one came out kicking. It might not be enough for a title this season, but still, Beitar's success highlights Hapoel's failure.