Back in May, Beitar Jerusalem FC completed a domestic double in Israel by beating Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC on penalties in the State Cup final, but after losing 4-0 to the same opponents on Monday, that seems like an eternity ago.
Fourth in the table, eleven points adrift of leaders Maccabi Haifa FC, Beitar are in the doldrums, with owner Arkadi Gaidamak having left for Russia following the disappointment of polling less than 7,500 votes in his bid to become mayor of Jerusalem back in November. His interest in the club seems to be on the wane too, with cost cutting the order of the day.
Failing to reach the UEFA Champions League group stage this season brought swift changes, with several senior club officials being dismissed and Reuven Atar replacing Itzhak Shum as coach. High-profile Uruguayan striker Sebastian Abreu was also allowed to leave the club, but despite a relatively poor start, league results allowed Beitar to keep pace with the leading pack.
The club's January dealings, however, seem to have further hampered their chances of competing, with Ghanaian midfielder Derek Boateng sold to 1. FC Köln, Yoav Ziv departing for KSC Lokeren OV and Moshe Ohayon returning to FC Ashdod. The results of these departures was clearly seen as Hapoel Tel-Aviv took Beitar apart on Monday. "We embarrassed the club," Atar said.
While Beitar are in flux, Hapoel Tel-Aviv are on the up with coach Eli Guttman angling for another national title, a decade after leading Hapoel Haifa FC to their maiden crown. Having led Hapoel Tel-Aviv to safety as caretaker last year, he has kept the club on an even keel this time round, despite a modest budget and talks of boardoom moves above him.
He also made a brilliant signing by plucking Maaran Lala from lower league football. The striker has contributed four goals to his side's total of 28 with 12 of the others coming from the league's top scorer, Samuel Yeboah. Guttman's men have conceded just 14 goals all season, the best defensive record in the league, with the win against Beitar lifting Hapoel Tel-Aviv into second in the table.
Guttman hoped he could have the same effect on Hapoel Tel-Aviv as Sir Alex Ferguson has had at Manchester United FC. "A player at United, as far as Ferguson is concerned, turns into a winner the moment he signs a contract, and that's what I expect of every player who signs with Hapoel Tel-Aviv," he said. For the moment, that seems to be working.
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