Soccer / Profile / Long-distance Operator

Though he spends most of his time in Canada, Maccabi Tel Aviv owner Mitch Goldhar runs his club down to every detail. But could his penny pinching and lack of long term planning doom the team.

Crises are par for the course at Maccabi Tel Aviv, even when the club appears to be on an even keel. Most of the crises don't make it onto the public's radar, but they have one thing in common: their connection to way that Canadian owner Mitch Goldhar runs the club.

Just over a year ago, Goldhar's representative in Israel, Jack Angelides, complained about the job that Clarice Zadikov, the long-time CFO of the team, was doing. Goldhar's immediate response was to suggest appointing someone to do an identical job, with a slightly different title - but reporting back to the owner. So Tomer Shmuel was appointed commercial manager and Zadikov's authority was slowly eroded. Two months ago, the policy had the desired effect and Zadikov reached an agreement with Angelides over her retirement.

Mitch Goldhar - Sharon Bukov - 30112011
Sharon Bukov

"Mitch's game plan is to wear down anybody who he wants to get rid of, until they've had enough and decide to leave of their own accord," one club insider told Haaretz this week.

The departure of CEO Uzi Shaya, following the gradual erosion of his powers, is a case in point. "The dismissal of Avi Nimni is the exception that proves the rule," the same insider said. "For the most part, [Goldhar is] supremely patient. One could even say he's cold and calculated."

Goldhar is also playing with time in the battle between coach Moti Ivanir and star striker Barak Yitzhaki. Goldhar landed in Israel on Friday, but he opted not to address the spat until Monday evening.

According to club sources, the owner is currently observing the situation and has not yet decided how he will handle this latest crisis.

"Whatever happens," one source said, "he will be remembered as the knight in shining armor who came in and saved the day."

Goldhar's management model was imported directly from his main business interest - a partnership with Wal-Mart to operate shopping centers in Canada. He even spelled out his managerial vision in a leaflet distributed to fans ahead of Sunday night's derby against Hapoel Tel Aviv.

"By dealing with disciplinary matters, commitment and the right approach," he wrote, "we are now at the dawn of a cultural revolution - a process of building a new sporting culture."

Within the club, however, there are those who believe that Goldhar's managerial culture is based on overconcentration bordering on megalomania, penny-pinching and a lack of long-term planning.

"With all due respect to 'cultural revolutions,' the gap between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa is getting wider since he arrived," said one team insider.

And with all due respect to Angelides, everyone at Maccabi knows that it's a one-man show. Anything that Goldhar's Cypriot lieutenant says to the players or to the coaching staff is prefixed by the words "Mitch says..."

When Ivanir read the riot act to his players at a meeting in Caesarea last week, almost every sentence included the phrase "the owner told me that..."

Despite running the club from afar, decisions are only made once Goldhar has given them the green light. He was even involved in the minute details of the search for a location for the club's new souvenir shop.

"I want to invest in branding the store," he told his employees over a year ago. For months, he was presented with dozens of potential locations for the store in north Tel Aviv, but rejected them all. In the end, he decided to renovate the mobile home in the south of the city where the store is currently located.

Do as your boss says

Goldhar boasts to his business contacts in Toronto that he is not only the owner of Maccabi Tel Aviv but also its soccer director. The last time he was in Israel, he brought Ivanir into his office and tried to tell him how the team should be playing. "[Haris] Medunjanin should be playing in the same position that he plays for the [Bosnian] national team," Goldhar reportedly told his coach. In fact, it was at Goldhar's suggestion that Medunjanin was returned to the starting line-up at the expense of Gal Alberman. "Ivanir doesn't know how to respond in these situations," says a club source. "But he believes that he really should do as his boss suggested - even if that boss knows nothing about soccer."

This week, too, in the aftermath of the defeat in Sunday's derby match, Goldhar got involved.

"You showed that you've got the ability," he told the players, "but you seem to have misplaced the character that you showed at the start of the season. I am convinced that you still have that character and now's the time that you have to show it."

Goldhar has invested hundreds of millions of shekels in Maccabi since he arrived on scene some two and a half years ago, but club sources say that he borders on the frugal when it comes to the managerial side of the club. When Angelides was first offered a job, for example, Goldhar did not see fit to offer him a company car. Angelides complained bitterly but silently about this, until he eventually persuaded one of the team's sponsors to provide him with a vehicle - without Goldhar's knowledge.

In an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth's Nahum Barnea, Goldhar spoke about how much he values the work done behind the scenes by the club's equipment manager, David Zachi, who earns a fraction of the salary of the players. What he failed to point out, however, is that he has steadfastly refused to raise Zachi's measly pay by just a few hundred shekels. To Goldhar's credit, it should be noted that, when it comes to frugality, he practices what he preaches: he rented a dingy apartment for himself in Tel Aviv and he drives nothing more fancy than a Hyundai Getz.

Goldhar, according to club insiders, thrives on the media attention that Maccabi brings him. Despite the fact that he planned his latest visit to Israel well in advance, for example, and the crew aboard his private jet was briefed a week in advance, he made sure that the media were kept in the dark, in order to create an aura of expectation.

When Maccabi played against Panathinaikos earlier this season, he read everything that was written about him the Greek press and even cut out a cartoon of him that appeared in one the paper, asking all his employees whether it was flattering. He also has articles in which his name appears translated into English.

Despite his many statements, Goldhar does not have a long-term plan for the team. The only plan he has presented so far has been to upgrade the club's training facilities, but that still hasn't happened. The only changes he has made have been to the youth team set-up, and he often boasts about that team's accomplishments.

This has become a sore point with former owner Alex Shnaider, who complained that Goldhar was taking credit for a five-year plan that was implemented before he even arrived at the club.

As for his long-term future, Goldhar says that he's here to stay. "He is so keen to prove to everybody that his business model can work that he won't leave until he's won at least a league championship," according to one of his close associates.

There are those, however, who see things differently. Goldhar plays soccer at least once a week in Toronto with Ilan Sa'adi, a former professional player and close friend. One of the people who plays with them says that, between the lines, there are clear signs that Goldhar is getting frustrated with Maccabi.

"He's very distressed at the way the team is playing," the source says. "If I understand him correctly, he will give the team until the end of this season to win the championship and then he'll start looking for someone to take Maccabi off his hands."

Goldhar declined to comment for this article.