Too Many Cooks Spoiling the Broth at Hapoel Tel Aviv

The coach who made numerous errors is gone, but multiple shareholders are still pulling the soccer club in different directions, while the fans are wielding too much influence.

When former owner Eli Tabib gave up control of Hapoel Tel Aviv in the wake of extended fan protests calling for his ouster, he reportedly retorted, “They're going to miss me.” While it’s doubtful that anybody at Hapoel misses the former owner, they certainly miss the lineups of the team which starred on the pitch during his reign. During the current period, team fans are having a hard time deciding who is doing a poorer job, the players or management. The firing of Yossi Abukasis, the head coach, on Saturday apparently answered the question, for now.

In order to understand why Hapoel Tel Aviv’s management is at a nadir, all you need to do is take a peek at the list of team shareholders. The division of shares – 50 percent to Haim Ramon, 20 percent to the fans association, 10 percent to Meir Toshav, 7 percent to Bachur Tzaban, 5 percent to Ido Hajaj, 4 percent to Simon Katz and 4 percent to the brothers Eitan and Itzhak Nissanov – reflects the problematic starting point of decision-making at the club. Ramon, the chairman of the board, serves as a kind of middleman. After he had a hard time recruiting major investors, he was forced to piece together a fragile coalition of partners with small amounts of money. The team is run accordingly.

“It better suits small teams like Acre or Ramat Hasharon,” said am official in the team speaking on condition of anonymity. “People bought ownership of Hapoel for a smaller amount than the cost of a three-room apartment in Be’er Sheva. Apart from Ramon, no one knows the rest of the people in the administration. The management is amateurish.”

Toward the outside world, it looks like Ramon is making the decisions, but in practice each co-owner seems to have his own agenda. “A situation has been created in which every small shareholder at Hapoel has turned into an owner,” explains a member of the administration at the club. “Tabib ran Hapoel poorly, but at least he had accomplishments to show for it, and the team, for better or for worse, was run by one man. Now, everyone is pulling in his own direction.”
A close associate of Tabib, by the way, claims that the former owner “enjoyed watching the fans cursing the players, management and the coach. He is sitting on the side and smiling.” Hapoel’s management is certainly amusing. Since the Tel Aviv derby, one of the shareholders who owns a tiny percentage of the team had a discussion with a top-line coach and offered him to come to Hapoel to replace Abukasis. Another shareholder approached a separate coach. Ramon was given an update only in some of the instances.

The chaos at the top of Hapoel management eventually seeped down to the pitch, but it doesn’t absolve Abukasis of guilt for the team’s situation. The coach made mistakes along the whole way of his tenure. He decided to blame the referees and the fitness coach for the lack of success instead of taking care of the real problems, some of which started immediately upon his arrival.
“From the very beginning Yossi cut himself off from Nitzan Shirazi,” says a source at the team, referring to the team’s general manager. “He tossed out Shavit Elimelech and Yaakov Hillel and wanted to build around him a wall comprised of his people. He didn’t understand that he is working with human beings, and everything can turn upside down on him.”

Another source claims that Abukasis made a mistake when he didn’t leave his position with the national team. “The fans at Hapoel are spoiled,” he said. “His absence from practices, including during the week of the derby, drove them mad.”

The team dressing room was split over the Abukasis issue. There were a number of players that he was kind to, like Walid Badir, Roei Gordana, Tal Ben Haim and Omer Damari. There were players who felt hurt by him.

Neither were the acquisitions he brought in impressive. “Yossi brought in players who are appropriate for other teams but not Hapoel,” says a staff member of the team. “It’s impossible to bring in mediocre players or the kinds who didn’t play for a long period and demand of them to instigate significant change and make an immediate impact. Yossi was sure that he would not be hurt. He believed that the fans were with him, and that management would back him, because he saw that they were letting him do what he wanted to when he kicked out Elimelech and Hillel. They let him feel that he had the status of savior, and he took it a few steps too far.”

The working assumption of Abukasis might have turned out to be correct, but Ramon was susceptible to succumbing to pressure. Hapoel fans became very dominant, so much so that perhaps they surpassed Beitar Jerusalem fans in their level of influence on club management. The feeling is that fan pressure was the most significant factor in the firing of Abukasis.

“Hapoel turned into a team being controlled by the fans,” asserts a close associate of one of the shareholders. “Putting a 20 percent stake into the hands of the fans changed the management map. Put that together with the influence on the street, and the fans have a larger share than Ramon."

Seffi Magriso