Be’er Sheva Searches for an Oasis of Talent

Despite being offered plenty of money, players are in no rush to come to the capital of the Negev.

Hapoel Be’er Sheva fans have been complaining for a while now that the soccer club doesn’t attract big stars, only players at the end of their careers left without a team. Last week fan representatives attended a practice to talk with head coach Elisha Levy. They said his last chance would be against Kiryat Shmona, and if Be’er Sheva lost they couldn’t prevent rioting.

Be’er Sheva escaped with a 1-0 victory. The team may have avoided a fan rebellion, but it’s no closer to solving its problems recruiting better players for the team, which is stuck in ninth place.

Levy and Be’er Sheva owner Alona Barkat don’t hide the real reason they have failed to make top-notch acquisitions, even though Be’er Sheva doesn’t suffer from financial problems. Levy says they tried but players simply refused to come. Despite the very good conditions, they didn’t even consider Be’er Sheva as an option, and you can’t force players to come.

Barkat has almost given up. Despite allocating enough money to bring in at least two well-known Israelis during the January transfer window, no one has agreed to come. She says the fans have no reason to complain.

“Who haven’t we tried to bring in since the beginning of the season? I agreed to fat contracts, but what can you do, no one wanted to come,” she says. “To convince a player to come down to the Negev I have to pay significantly more than any other club in the country. It’s simply illogical, but it’s reality. Sometimes it seems that Be’er Sheva, an hour from Tel Aviv, is in another country.”

Compliments on paper

Toto Tamuz, Kobi Dajani, Kobi Moyal, Tomer Ben Yosef and Omer Damari − Barkat tried to bring them all to Be’er Sheva. She tried to tempt Arik Benado and Shimon Gershon with huge sums. Players and agents all have warm words for management and the family atmosphere, but the compliments stay on paper. Outside Aviram Baruchyan and Meir Melikson, it’s hard to remember a top-flight Israeli who signed with the team in recent years; Melikson arrived after an injury put his career in decline.

Even foreign players have learned that it’s preferable to join a team like Acre. When they arrive in Israel they ask two questions, sources at Be’er Sheva say: How far is it from Tel Aviv and is the city by the sea. Be’er Sheva fails both tests. They’ll never say it to the press, but Barkat and Levy admit that players are willing to forgo $50,000 just to stay in the center of the country.

Ido Escobar, for example, would rather make the daily trip from the center and not live in the south. According to the sources, the players say there’s nothing to do in Be’er Sheva after practice; life there is boring.

Be’er Sheva isn’t alone. Players also hesitate to join Kiryat Shmona, but the Premier League champion enjoys tax breaks and upgraded contracts thanks to the generosity of owner Izzy Sheratzky. Unlike Sheratzky, Barkat doesn’t require players to live in the city and is willing to provide benefits, upgrades and bonuses − whatever it takes − to bring in stars. But she remains without success.

Ilan Assayag