By Ofer Ronen-Abels
While Yossi Benayoun’s transfer to West Ham United FC may have grabbed all the recent headlines in Israel, the domestic market was as active as ever.
Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC embarked on a massive spending frenzy after finishing a dismal eighth out of twelve in the Premier League last season, 31 points behind champions Maccabi Haifa FC. They have wrapped up PFC Litex Lovech striker Eugen Trica and Uruguayan defender Cristian González this month, adding to a squad already boasting newcomers Eyal Berkovic, Giovanni Rosso, Avi Nimni, José Duarte, Blesing Kaku, Avi Yechiel and Erez Eliav.
However, they released winger Barukh Dego, scorer of all four of their goals in the UEFA Champions League group stage last season, allowing him to join neighbours Hapoel Tel-Aviv FC.
Runners-up last term, Maccabi Petach-Tikva FC have added 22-year-old Belgian defender Fabrice Lokembo Lokaso, who helped second division Maccabi Herzliya FC reach the 2004/05 Israeli Cup final. They also signed Brazilian Jefesley Caldeira from Beitar Jerusalem FC, who let Tal Banin and Ofer Talkar join newcomers Maccabi Netanya FC.
FC Ashdod have beefed up their defence with Cameroonians Ernst Etchi and Jan Dika Dika, from Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin FC and LASK Linz respectively. In addition, they picked up Croatian midfielder Zoran Rajovic from NK Zrinjski.
Hapoel Nazareth FC brought in four Slovenians and a Bosnia-Herzegovnian. Miha Pitamic, Simon Sesler, Vladimir Kokol, Mislav Karoglan and Darko Dukić end coach Motti Iwanir’s Israelis-only policy.
Bnei Yehuda Tel-Aviv FC pulled off a coup, securing the services of Nigerian goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama from Enyimba FC, while snapping up Croatian midfielder Hrvoje Kovačević from HNK Cibalia Vinkovci.
Levy takes chair
Ronen Elad took over from Meir Shamir as Hapoel Petach-Tikva FC owner and brought in former Israeli Football Association chairman Gavri Levy, who was at the club from 1988-96. Levy showed off his confident persona when presented to the media: "I hope I haven't lost my touch and I will help the club dominate Israeli football just like I did in the early '90s."
Nine top-flight teams chose the Netherlands to escape the stifling Israeli heat for pre-season training camps. Bucking the trend were Hapoel Bnei Sakhnin FC in Romania, Hapoel Petach-Tikva visiting Austria and Hapoel Nazareth choosing Poland. Meanwhile, Maccabi Haifa trail Malmö FF 3-2 ahead of Wednesday's home leg of their UEFA Champions League second qualifying round tie.
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