Long-rumored to have wanted to end his miserable association with Red Bull Global Soccer and return home, Omer Damari has finally got his wish, securing a loan to Maccabi Haifa in the Israeli Premier League. The move had been suggested by the rumor mill for some time, and was reported by journalist Raphael Gellar several days before it was officially announced by the club:
News on Maccabi Haifa: Omer Damari loan until 2018! Maccabi Haifa only pays Omers Salary, no loan-money. Still negotiations on salary.— Raphael Gellar (@Raphael_Gellar) January 9, 2017
A loan to 2018 had been assumed to cover the length of Damari's remaining contract with RB Leipzig, ensuring he is safely away from the global soccer set-up that seemed determined to mangle his career.
The terms of the deal, however, have attracted some attention and speculation. In a print-only report (per Rotebrauseblogger.de), Bild suggested that Damari's contract at Leipzig had been extended by a year, meaning he's technically attached to the club until 2019. And the suggestion from Israel is that Maccabi Haifa is only paying about a quarter of the player's salary, thought to be around $1.7 million per year:
Omer Damari has signed with Maccabi Haifa on loan from RB Leipzig. Expected to make 400k€. pic.twitter.com/wzC4N3POu7— Raphael Gellar (@Raphael_Gellar) January 12, 2017
So it looks a lot like Leipzig is still carrying a heavy financial burden for its failure to make the most of its investment in Damari. He arrived at the club as a sure thing: a proven scorer in Israel, Austria, and at international level. Injury disrupted his integration into the Leipzig set-up, and he was loaned out to RB Salzburg, and then to the New York Red Bulls. His last appearance in a Red Bull jersey saw him draw a red card while playing for RBNY.
Perhaps it was fitting: the only player to have played for RBs Leipzig, Salzburg and NY was sent off as a prelude to being sent home.
From Damari's perspective, one assumes this is the move he wanted. Red Bull soccer clearly didn't suit him at all; be that simply misfortune (he had a lot of injuries) or an abiding distaste for frantic pressing, we may never know. But a return to the league where he made his name ought to be a step toward rehabilitating his reputation and career.
Seemingly a consistently modest and level-headed interviewee, Damari told Maccabi Haifa's fans that he had "not forgot how to play football", and that he was "still the same player, still hungry, and I hope to prove it".
For Leipzig, if Damari is under contract until 2019 and the club is still paying him more than $1 million per year - the sooner he can get back to top form, the better. Damari was one of the more desirable young forwards in Europe when Papa Red Bull scooped him up in 2015. He is 27 years old: he can still fulfill the promise of his talent. And he could yet attract a transfer fee that would allow Leipzig to recoup something of its original investment (around $7.5 million, per RBLive.de).
If healthy & in form, Omer Damari is the best signing this year in Israeli football hands down.— Raphael Gellar (@Raphael_Gellar) January 12, 2017
The club he has joined, Maccabi Haifa, is one that expects to be challenging for titles on the regular. That seems unlikely this season: it is a long way behind the league-leading pace set by Hapoel Be'er Sheva. But it has acquired a player surely every bit as hungry as itself to return to past glory.
Damari was put straight into the match-day squad for Maccabi Haifa's first match since his signing was announced. As it happens, it was against the team with which he made his name, Maccabi Petah Tikva. Damari entered the game in the 55th minute, but was unable to change the outcome: Maccabi Haifa was losing 2-0 when he was subbed in, and the score was still 2-0 at the final whistle.
Work to do for both club and player.