Israeli Striker Strives to Make Be’er Sheva More Than a Soccer Desert

Elyaniv Barda says Chairwoman Alona Barkat has what it takes to make the club a playoff power.

The optimism at Hapoel Be’er Sheva this Premier League season is clear in an interview with striker Elyaniv Barda. The team has reason to feel good after beating Maccabi Tel Aviv, moving into a tie at 20 points.

But the victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv didn’t make anybody euphoric. “A club whose last two championships were in the ‘70s can’t talk about a championship after every victory,” Barda says. So what is he willing to talk about? Well, most things.

Many times you play as a striker, but you also go back and play behind a striker. It seems coach Elisha Levy gives you free rein.

“I obey Elisha’s orders. Sometimes I really am playing striker, sometimes I’m playing the striker who connects midfield and the attack. It depends on the opponent. It depends on who’s up front with me and what the orders are.”

I can’t imagine you playing on the wing.

“I really loved playing left midfield in Belgium, moving around to the middle and kicking.”

I gather this was because you were younger and quicker.

“You could say that.”

Have you lost a little speed at 32?

“Touch wood, you said that, not me.”

What, you still have the speed you had at 26?

“That’s how I feel, but if you say so. I guess it’s impossible to be today as quick as you were when you were 18.”

I don’t really buy your team’s insistence on saying that you’re not thinking about a championship. It’s a fact that you get very generous bonuses for winning a championship. You alone are guaranteed a NIS 550,000 bonus for a championship.

“Whatever you say, I didn’t know about it. You’re telling me something new.”

If you weren’t thinking that it’s possible, they wouldn’t be giving you any of these bonuses.

“You get a championship bonus when you win a championship. We’ve only played nine games. We haven’t done anything yet. There are ambitions; it’s a great and welcome thing.”

I’m just saying that Chairwoman Alona Barkat realized that there’s a chance this season to do it. Maybe people prefer to be modest because they see that Maccabi Tel Aviv is well above the rest of the league.

“Yeah, I know there’s talk about being in the upper playoff bracket.”

The south deserves it

Alona was the sucker of the league for years. Does she have the patience and knowledge to turn Be’er Sheva into a club that will be at the top for a long time?

“I believe it with all my heart. If after the ups and downs of the past two years Alona is still here and has even decided to invest more ... she’ll achieve for Hapoel Be’er Sheva accomplishments and a place this city deserves. And Alona deserves it, too.”

How is it to work under a female boss? It’s very rare in soccer.

“I don’t feel anything different from other bosses I’ve worked under. She understands soccer, she speaks to the point, and she’s very modest.”

She’s a warm person. You played at Maccabi Haifa. Is she warmer than Yaakov Shahar?

“She has more presence. You see less of Yankele, while Alona is more involved and you see her more often.”

I think that after Mitch Goldhar at Macccabi Tel Aviv, she has dished out the most money in the league over the past few years.

“True, and I say hats off to her because of that. She’s doing it all out of love and a desire to make people happy here in the south. It’s not like she’s putting in NIS 10 shekels and taking out 100. She pays out NIS 100 and has to put down another 100.”

How is it that no other team in the country approached you over the summer?

“Maccabi Tel Aviv talked to me, but it didn’t reach the stage of negotiations.”

What does that mean they talked to you?

“It was just feelers. They checked how much I would demand, but the moment Hapoel Be’er Sheva entered the picture I was set on wanting to play there.”

Who did you hear from at Maccabi?

“[General Manager] Jordi Cruyff spoke with my agent.”

Your arrival also opened the door to others like Maor Buzaglo and Gal Arel. One could say your astronomical contract is worth every shekel to Alona Barkat.

“You say it’s astronomical; I don’t think it’s so high. Most of my contract is a signing bonus. I came to Hapoel Be’er Sheva for free. Instead of it paying money to Genk, it paid me.”

A signing bonus of NIS 1.8 million.

“That’s gross, eh?”

Yes. It’s quite a holiday bonus. Did they give it to you in gift cards or cash?

“They gave it to me in installments at the local department store.”

You live in Be’er Sheva?

“Yes, for now at my parents.”

I understand. Rent has gotten expensive.

“For now I’m not giving in.”

Landlords are demanding more money from you?

“I stopped being alone. It’s not so bad.”

You know there are fans who say Hapoel’s collapse started in the 2002-03 season when they sold you to Maccabi Haifa midseason and the team was in the top half. I remember that you didn’t really want to go.

“True, it wasn’t my choice. Eli Jino needed to pay the players’ salaries. He was looking for some income so he decided to sell me. It was either you leave or you won’t get a salary.”

From Haifa you went to Hapoel Tel Aviv. After two successful years with two cups you suddenly went to Genk for the ludicrous sum of $65,000. How did you manage to get in such a release clause?

“Ask my lawyers. They and my father sat with Hapoel Tel Aviv, not me.”

You’re quite consistent. You played six years for the same club in Belgium and you still have the same haircut after more than a decade.

“In the meantime I got spikes and buzz cut.”

But in the end you always return to your roots.

“That’s how it works out. I have no steady barber. I get a haircut where it works out.”

Sharon Bukov