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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Lev Leviev completes Hapoel Tel Aviv takeover

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Last update - 02:20 03/01/2006

By Haaretz Sports Staff

Lev Leviev's take over of the Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer club became official yesterday, ending months of speculation and denial.

A spokesman for the billionaire businessman said Leviev had purchased a 75 percent stake in the club and that the remaining 25 percent would be held by Sami Segol.

Leviev will pay NIS 20 million for the controlling share in the club, which is currently second in the Premier League, and will not take on any of the club's previous debts. Leviev will take control of Hapoel in May.

While Leviev, an orthodox Jew, did not condition his purchase of the club on Hapoel not playing on the Sabbath, the parties agreed that Hapoel would make every effort to refrain from doing so.

Leviev's buyout of Hapoel has raised many eyebrows as to why he would wish to buy a soccer club. Yesterday, his spokesman said the decision was the result of a gentlemanly agreement with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

According to the spokesman, Abramovich asked Leviev why he did not buy a soccer team in Israel, to which Leviev replied that he would do so when Abramovich donated money to the Jewish community. Abramovich kept his word and so did Leviev.

But there are those who claim that Abramovich's involvement goes far deeper. The Chelsea owner will take Hapoel under his wing to gain first pick at the club's talent.

Sources close to the negotiations said that while a budget had not been set for the team, money would not be a problem. "Leviev is in [Betar Jerusalem owner] Arcadi Gaydamak's league and we have to get used to new standards in Israeli soccer," the sources said. "Their aim is to reach the Champions League every year. We are talking about people who don't know what it means to be number two."

Leviev and Gaydamak are considered to be business rivals.

Meanwhile, Hapoel's current management company, which drew praises from Leviev's representatives, will stay in place until the rights to the club are transfered in May. Leviev is expected to appoint his son, Shalom Leviev, to head the new management company.

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