My Call: Grant's departure is Israel's mixed blessing

Move may not be to benefit of the team, but will certainly make things easier on a number of players.

soccer 88 (photo credit: )
soccer 88
(photo credit: )
Avraham Grant said goodbye to the national team on Wednesday in a move that may not be to the benefit of the team, but will certainly make things easier on a number of the players.

While no one can argue with the results the coach has produced over the course of his career - highlighted by an impressive, undefeated World Cup qualifying campaign - his inter-personal relations have caused problems on a number of occasions.

Grant's star players, in this case national team captain Avi Nimni and West Ham United attacker Yossi Benayoun, were always ready to back their coach, however recent weeks have seen another two players launch unprecedented attacks on the well-connected trainer.

Striker Pini Balili wrote a column in Yediot Ahronot declaring that he would not return to the team under Grant, while last Saturday Maccabi Tel Aviv midfielder Eyal Berkovic was a guest on Channel 2's Meet the Press, where he said that Grant's stint was a failure and called for him resign.

Another player who has remained quiet for the past weeks is Dudu Awat, who had a run-in after he was skipped over for the No. 1 goalkeeper spot for last month's game in Switzerland. Awat left the team the next day and was not recalled for the Israel's last home game against the Faroe Islands three weeks ago.

The truth is that behind the scenes there are just as many players who feel a part of the Nimni/Benayoun camp as there are supporters for Balili and Berkovic. The same can be said of coaches and journalists.

The fact that there is such a split of public opinion regarding Israel Football Association chairman Itche Menahem's decision as to whether to keep Grant for another campaign after going unbeaten in competitive play for two years shows that the the debate was about more than results.

There is no arguing with the results that Israel has achieved under Grant. After a rocky Euro 2004 qualifying campaign, Israel put it together and made a strong run at a spot in the 2006 World Cup. Though there may have been some luck involved and the team did sport an overwhelmingly defensive style of play, Israel did come ever close to reaching the playoffs, missing out to Switzerland on a tiebreaker.

The likelihood that any of the mentioned candidates to replace Grant could take Israel through to the 2008 European Championships, the next tournament Israel will attempt to qualify for, is quite slim. Some of the team's trusted veterans are considerably past their prime and the next generation has yet to prove that it's ready to step in.

On the other hand, much of that also falls to Grant, who despite repeated claims that he was building younger generation, continued to field mostly veteran squads even in friendly matches.

Over his coaching career, Grant has made many friends in high places and then used their clout to achieve his goals. The countless newspaper reports over the years from "sources close to Grant" are non other than his friends in the media whom he leaked stories to. His use of the press was brilliant at times, but eventually cost him as those who were not privy to the scoops made available by "sources close to Grant" would turn against him.

Eventually, players like Balili and Berkovic, who felt that the coach was dishonest with them at times; former national coach Shlomo Sharf, who waged a public war with Grant; and even Menahem himself, who may have felt that Grant had more control at the IFA than he did, made it clear to Grant that he may be best suited elsewhere.

Grant's coaching career is far from over. We will probably seem the soccer wiz put his hands on many more trophies before his time is up. And it's a shame that the national team won't be able to benefit by winning with Grant.

But the national team locker room will be a happier place for all with Dror Kashtan, Yitzhak Schum or anyone else when the real games return next year.