The Last Word: Reaching the CL semis isn't so bad

When a team is winning and the coach doesn't seek the limelight, his role and deep contribution can be dismissed as being relatively insignificant.

grant 88 (photo credit: )
grant 88
(photo credit: )
It is all too easy to claim that the success of a professional sports team is simply down to the quality of the playing staff. When a team is winning and the coach doesn't seek the limelight, his role and deep contribution can be dismissed as being relatively insignificant. The majority of the English media seem to have the idea that anyone could get to the semifinals of the Champions League with the talented squad of players at Chelsea. And they believe that the relatively unentertaining style of play the Blues have put on show in recent months is enough cause for Avraham Grant's dismissal when the season ends in May. What a mistake these critics are making, and how naive they are to imagine that Grant, and any other coach who brings success, has an easy time of it as long as he has money to spend on players. Since taking over from Jose Mourinho in September, Grant has brought a much-needed consistency and calmness to Chelsea, despite the attempts of the media to portray the situation as quite the opposite. Too many people have no appreciation of the intense pressure he has been under and the incredibly impressive manner the former Israel national team coach has managed to handle this pressure. Only once in the last seven months have we seen Grant hit back at his critics, and on that occasion, in a press conference at Stamford Bridge following a couple of bad results, he was still able to speak calmly to the baying tabloid hacks sitting in front of him. Another example of a massively impressive coaching performance by a man who came in to steady a very rocky boat is Tzvika Sherf at the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball club. I will be in Madrid in two weeks time to cover Maccabi's games in the Euroleague final four, and that is only thanks to the passion and experience Sherf brought to Maccabi at a time of great distress. Until January 1, Sherf was better known as a fiery media personality who would entertain Israeli sports fans once or twice a week with his crazy and vociferous arguments with Ron Kofman on Sport5's popular sports debate show "Yetzia Itonut" than for his part time roles of coach of the Israel national team and CEO at Maccabi. His appointment as the replacement for Oded Katash appeared a little strange at first, but his results have proved that he knows exactly what he is doing. The Euroleague quarterfinal Game 3 win against Barcelona last Thursday was a tactical masterclass by Sherf with the Israeli team stifling the Barcelona offense and working hard on the backcourt. Sherf illustrated the need for experience in coaching and management, not just good players. He has hardly changed the team which Katash had, but completely changed the atmosphere and attitude. Katash replaced another failed Maccabi coach, the unsuccessful Croatian Neven Spahija who couldn't get past the quarterfinal stage in last season's Euroleague. It was not that they were bad coaches, just that they could not cope with what is arguably biggest stage in European basketball. Since leaving Maccabi both have gone back into coaching and been successes, just as they were before. Katash has been a revelation at Galil Elyon, winning the last three straight games, and Spahija has taken Spanish team Tau Vitoria to the semifinals of the Euroleague and could even face Maccabi in the Final Four. If Vitoria beats CSKA Moscow and Maccabi gets past Siena it will set up what one colleague would describe as a mouthwatering final, pitching the revived Maccabi coach against his less illustrious predecessor. Then we will see just who is the greatest.