Soccer / Regime Change at Maccabi Tel Aviv / Still Waters Run Deep Pockets

Who is Mitchell Goldhar, Maccabi Tel Aviv fans have been wondering for the past few weeks, since they heard that Alex Shnaider intends to sell the club to the Toronto-based real estate magnate. Heads of the Maccabi Tel Aviv sports union were similarly perplexed before the association's general meeting on Monday.

For that reason, club chairman Aviv Bushinsky, Goldhar's representative in Israel, took the trouble to describe the new potential owner. "He's a serious man - an intellectual," Bushinsky said. "In addition to his widespread business interests, he's a philanthropist who donates to hospitals and children. He is very different from Alex Shnaider. He is an introverted character who doesn't like to show off. He is coming here to work. As proof, he invested $200,000 in due diligence."

Goldhar made his fortune by developing commercial centers and real estate, and is considered one of the most ambitious developers in the Canadian retail market. His company SmartCentres is one of the largest shopping-mall developers in Canada. In 2008 he was ranked 50 in Canadian Business' list of the 100 richest people in Canada, with an estimated fortune of C$1.06 billion (about $990 million).

He is known in Canada as the man who introduced Wal-Mart stores from the United States. In 1994 he opened his first mall in the town of Barrie, Ontario, including the first Wal-Mart branch north of the border, and hasn't looked back since. His company now controls some 200 malls and opens a new one every three weeks on average.

Goldhar, who is Jewish, has no business interests in Israel or with Israelis, and Canadian observers are speculating that his proposed acquisition of 40 percent of the shares in Maccabi Tel Aviv foreshadows an introduction of Wal-Mart into the country.

Beyond his wealth, Goldhar is known for his introversion. Canadian journalists recount that for years he employed a public relations representative, but eventually decided to forgo the service. "Nobody, including himself, knew why he needed a PR person," says Tony Wong of The Toronto Star. "He hates being photographed and feels uncomfortable during interviews, so he's hardly ever exposed. He's the complete opposite of Shnaider, who loved to appear everywhere in the press. Our paper has only two photos of him, and many people don't know what he looks like."

Negotiations between the two Canadian businessmen are continuing, and on Tuesday night accountants representing the two sides ironed out details such as when the deal will take effect and how much Goldhar will invest in the club. Goldhar, who is involved in every stage of the negotiations, insists on making the deal immediately effective. Shnaider prefers to backdate the agreement to July 1 - meaning he would only have to foot half the bill for new players Ronny Gafney and Yuval Avidor.

"Unlike Shnaider, I can't see Goldhar coming in for a year or two, but for the long run," says attorney Yehuda Raveh, who formerly served as president of the Israel-Canada Chamber of Commerce and knows Goldhar's father well. "He is a serious person from an upstanding family, who does most of his business in a calculated, exact fashion. He probably thought a lot before deciding to go for Maccabi."

The deal is expected to be closed today and brought for approval by the Israel Football Association tomorrow.