JERUSALEM Former Israeli cabinet minister Haim Ramon took control of Hapoel Tel Aviv football club on Wednesday and said a consortium would pay off outgoing owner Eli Tabib to leave the club.
Tabib took ownership of Hapoel last season after a battle with a partner which led to a court awarding him the outfit. But he found no love among the club's supporters, who said he did not have the club in his heart and they vowed to make him leave.
Ramon, a well-known Hapoel supporter and a member of the centrist Kadima party, expressed a similar sentiment when telling a news conference in Tel Aviv that Tabib would be paid 12 million shekels ($3 million) to leave the club.
"(The transfer of ownership) is signed and agreed by Eli Tabib. It was a clear and unequivocal condition and he is therefore no longer connected and will not be connected to Hapoel Tel Aviv," Ramon said, who declined to state who was backing him.
"I am responsible for the club, I am responsible for raising the money...I am responsible that Eli Tabib will not return to the club because he cannot, according to all the legal understandings (of the deal). But there is no reason for anybody here to know who has given me the 12 million," Ramon added.
Hapoel have been one of Israel's most successful clubs in recent years both at home and in European club competitions and, despite the acrimony between Tabib and many of the club's players and the fans, they finished as league runners-up and completed a hat trick of State Cup wins last season.
One supporter of Hapoel, whose traditional colour is red and which had originally represented Israel's labour movement, expressed the sentiments of many fans when he said the club had regained its freedom.
"Happy independence day to the red family, I feel today we have regained our freedom," supporter Bernardo Gal told Channel 1 television.
(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by John Mehaffey)