Window of Opportunity: How a change in Hapoel Be’er Sheva’s transfer approach could up their European game
Hapoel Be’er Sheva have never been ones to over spend in the pre-season transfer window. In fact, their record transfer in the mid-2016 market was approximately €1 000 000, for the purchase of Michael Ohana from FC Ashdod. Alona Barkat, the club owner, brought 6 players to the club during that time, whilst bidding farewell to 3.
This trend of buying and selling a multitude of players has occurred for a number of seasons, with Barkat buying another 6 players during the 2015 transfer window whilst selling 6, and again in 2014, when 8 new prospects were brought into the squad, whilst Be’er Sheva disposed of an overwhelming 12 players.
Whilst many of these changes were necessary, and credit is due to Barkat and Barak Bakhar, Hapoel’s manager, for making effective strategic decisions, one such transfer strategy will not contribute value for much longer.
This is because, after many frustrating seasons, the squad has finally attained the team chemistry needed to achieve consistent results in league matches. To alter the team’s composition to the same extent as in past transfer windows could hamper Hapoel’s team chemistry, and potentially see the squad revert back to the mid-table strugglers they were a couple of seasons back.
More importantly, however, whilst this tactic worked well to improve their domestic competitiveness, it did little to improve Hapeol’s performances in European competitions such as the Europa League.
Hapoel Be’er Sheva did have their best Europa league showing yet last season, making it to the Round of 32, however this could be attributed to their squad growing more accustomed to matches of this nature.
By taking a look at match statistics, one can see that it is the players with prior European experience who contributed the most to their progression. For example, Ben Bitton shined as full back, with 12 completed crosses and 80% pass accuracy, arguably the best defender of the campaign. Ben Sahar had the best shot accuracy out of all the squad’s attackers, with only one shot being off target out of seven. The one commonality between their best players in the Europa League is that they all had prior experience in the competition.
Overall, both Bakhar and the majority of his squad have only had exposure to European competition in recent years through Hapoel Be’er Sheva, with the exception of some players such as veteran Elyaniv Barda, who previously played for Maccabi Haifa and Racing Genk. Whilst they continue to grow accustomed to continental football each season, the road to success remains a long and gruelling one, particularly because the many European styles of football differ so markedly from that of Israel. How can Bakhar and his squad confront teams whose styles of play they have no understanding of?
One such approach is to purchase fewer players this season, but to acquire players with more experience in the Champions League and Europa League competitions. Although I do not have access to Hapoel Be’er Sheva’s finances, one can assume that, by assessing their average purchases compared to sales in past transfer windows (the figures that are available to the public), they usually have a buying power of approximately €1.28 million. Such finances are sufficient to execute this approach.
There are many available veteran players who could potentially fill this void in knowledge of the European game. For example, take Victor Valdes, the former Barcelona keeper of choice. He has an estimated current market value of €2 500 000, and considering his current side Middlesbrough have just been relegated from the Premier League, he could be willing to leave for less. Eduardo, the ex-Arsenal forward, also has ample European experience as well as a price tag of €2 000 000.
If the above-mentioned players are not willing to sign for Hapoel Be’er Sheva, there are still a multitude of veteran players who are desperate to receive more game time and will thus be willing to sign for a smaller club.
The point is that it is possible for Hapoel Be’er Sheva to sign an experienced player who knows the European game, but this will require them to ease up on the volume of transfers being made in the transfer window.
It may be a risky strategy that they are unfamiliar with, and the newly-arrived players may only have limited playing time left in their careers, but transfers of this nature may be necessary for Hapoel Be’er Sheva’s progress.
Not only will the squad attain the experience and knowledge needed to further progress in European competitions, but such knowledge could be passed down to the club’s youth, who will become the next generation of first team players.