Basketball: The prodigal son returns to Tel Aviv

Pini Gershon takes the reins of a Maccabi team in disarray after Birenboim is sacked.

pini gershon (photo credit: Blake-Ezra Cole [file])
pini gershon
(photo credit: Blake-Ezra Cole [file])
Pini Gershon began his third tenure as Maccabi Tel Aviv coach in typical fashion on Tuesday afternoon. The 57-year-old, who finalized a three-year contract with the club on Monday night, started his first press conference as the new Maccabi coach by cracking a dirty joke, bringing smiles to the dozens of media representatives at Hadar Yosef. Gershon was his usual chuckling self throughout the entire day, which began with him landing at Ben-Gurion Airport, and revealing that he was trembling when Maccabi called to offer him the coaching position. "I'm a Maccabi fan through and through, so when I was called upon, I came," " said Gershon, who walked out on Maccabi at the end of the 2005/06 season. "I will try to do my best and I know the expectations are high. Up until yesterday [Monday] morning I had no idea I would be returning to Maccabi, but when I was asked to come back I had no hesitation." Gershon hasn't coached a club since being sacked by Olympiacos last season, but remained in Athens for tax reasons. He will, however, remain as Bulgarian national team coach despite taking the Maccabi job. Ex-Maccabi coach Effi Birenboim bid farewell to the players a few minutes before Gershon met his roster for the first time and only spoke briefly after he exited the arena and was almost overcome with emotion. "I said goodbye to the team. I'm going home," said Birenboim, who was on the verge of tears after being sacked by Maccabi the day before. "The most important thing my father taught me was that you should always be a gentleman and I hope I've acted accordingly." Gershon was sympathetic for Birenboim's situation, but explained that this is the life of a basketball coach. "I feel sorry for Effi, but what would you do if you were in the position of the Maccabi owners?" Gershon asked the press. "There's no doubt the team wasn't functioning properly, so they tried to make a change. I don't think there was any other option." Gershon inherits a roster he didn't build, just like he did 10 years and two weeks ago when he first joined Maccabi. "I'm arriving midway through the season and I need to adjust to this roster," Gershon said. "I will try and only make very small changes at the start. Making drastic changes isn't always the right thing to do. You need to make the most of what you've got." The coach also spoke of the style of basketball he'd like to see from the team. "This will not be a defensive team," said Pini, who built high-tempo and exciting basketball teams in his previous tenures at Maccabi, leading the club to the 2001, 2004 and 2005 European titles. "Most of the players fit my system and I think this team is capable of scoring 85-90 points a game." Maccabi has yet to name Gershon's assistant, although Sharon Drucker, who currently coaches at Oostende in Belgium, remains the favorite. Regardless of who eventually joins the team, Gershon is hoping to build a coaching staff which will one day replace him at the helm. "I think the process Maccabi went through over the last two seasons wasn't good," he said. "Instability is bad for a club. Maccabi was stable during my great seasons and I will try and build a staff which can continue at the club for many years to come. "Ten years ago I entered Yad Eliyahu for the first time and never dreamt things would turn out the way they did. I hope the results will be similar this time around too."