The Penultimate Word: He who laughs last ...

Maccabi Tel Aviv’s management hardly expected Katash to come back and sting them like he did.

When Maccabi Tel Aviv’s management parted ways with coach Oded Katash on January 1, 2008, they could hardly have expected him to come back and sting them like he did last week.
And who could have predicted that ex-Maccabi point guard Gal Mekel would be sitting at the post-game press conference last Thursday evening with a look of combined bewilderment, emotion and sheer delight on his face, just six months after practically being forced out of the club.
Less than an hour after leading Hapoel Gilboa/Galil to the most unlikely of victories over mighty perennial champion Maccabi Tel Aviv to claim the BSL title, Katash and Mekel, one of his leading players, were very clearly delighted to take their places in the media room at Nokia Arena alongside losing captain Derek Sharp and losing coach Pini Gershon.
Katash appeared to take the victory more gracefully than Mekel, who sat at the end of the table proudly showing off the net he had cut down with a massive smile on his face.
The 35-year-old had been treated badly by the Maccabi board two-and-a-half years earlier, when he was left in a position where he felt forced to resign after only seven months in charge due to an obvious lack of confidence in his skills.
But Katash will always have a soft spot for the yellow-and-blue, having spent a great deal of his playing career at Yad Eliyahu and on Thursday he refused to let his emotions get the better of him.
Katash seemed happy to allow the comprehensive 90-77 win over Tel Aviv in the Final Four climax to act as a clear illustration of his coaching credentials and proof that Maccabi made a big mistake by letting him go.
For Mekel, however, it was sweet revenge.
Mekel grew up at Hapoel Tel Aviv but played as a teenager in the Maccabi Tel Aviv youth team. After a season at Gilboa he returned to Maccabi Tel Aviv last summer as a 21-year-old prospect, but soon felt himself betrayed by Gershon who favored Doron Perkins as backup point guard.
Once the season started Mekel was given hardly any minutes and began questioning his decision to commit to playing for the richest basketball club in the country.
By winter he was at the end of his tether.
No longer feeling he could justify being demeaned in such a manner, Mekel gave up on Maccabi and returned to Gilboa where he found his place and returned to form.
Therefore, embarrassing the smug Maccabi Tel Aviv in the BSL finals must have felt great for the Israel national team player.
On Thursday night Mekel and Katash were clearly experiencing the ultimate “I told you so” – a high level of satisfaction.
The talented pair had taught the Maccabi management an important lesson in both morals and professionalism.
Individuals such as Gershon and Maccabi Tel Aviv chairman Shimon Mizrahi are all too quick to make significant decisions which affect other people’s lives without considering both the long and short term implications.
Now they have been left with egg on their face while being plunged into a crisis of confidence.
On Thursday Katash and Mekel were the winners, Gershon and Sharp the losers, in a very big way.
Those who get rid of quality employees without giving them a real chance, face the prospect of the same individuals coming back to haunt them.
And how Gilboa did haunt Mizrahi and his team.
Before the game the Maccabi fans who filled the vast majority of the seats at Nokia Arena displayed an astonishing degree of arrogance, showing off two large banners – the first featuring a picture of a double six being played on a backgammon board with the slogan “For you this is a double” painted above it, and the second with an illustration of Sharp holding the State Cup trophy in one hand and the league championship shield in the other beneath the slogan “For us this is a double.”
Having won the State Cup earlier this year in a tight match against Bnei Hasharon, the Maccabi supporters were quite sure they would have little problem against Katash, Mekel and their colleagues.
This arrogance has been reflected in Maccabi, the players and management for many years.
Until recently it has been justified to some extent, with the club producing overpowering teams that simply would not be beaten.
But for most of this past season Maccabi Tel Aviv was far from its best, as underlined in the quarterfinal series with Bnei Hasharon where it was taken to a deciding Game 5 and was very nearly knocked out.
So the club had no right to have such visions of superiority.
During nearly all of last Thursday’s final Maccabi was played off the parquet, showing a distinct lack of the passion and quality needed to win a championship.
In contrast, Gilboa/Galil’s players and coaching staff were noticeably driven to make history and bring Mizrahi et al. down a peg or two.
That is exactly what they did and it is something they should be very proud of.
Rather than assuming they can treat people as they please without suffering any consequences, Mizrahi and Gershon have learned otherwise.
This week the Maccabi management team held the first of a series of meetings focused on preparing for next season.
It is notable that, although he holds a prestigious title and is the public face of the Maccabi leadership, Mizrahi has far less influence and importance than some might think.
He is, in fact, more of a messenger than a decision maker, a man who has a feeling of self-importance but knows he is not really the one pulling the strings.
David Federman and Shai Recanati are actually the individuals who own the largest stakes in Maccabi Tel Aviv, with Mizrahi only contributing a small percentage to the budget.
Mizrahi would have been involved in the decision to fire Katash and notallow his successor Tzvika Sherf to continue six months later despitereaching the Euroleague final, but his importance is now greatlydiminished.
It is already clear that the defeat to Gilboa will have deep repercussions for Maccabi.
Some players, including Andrew Wisniewski, have been told to leave andit is strongly rumored that Gershon will be moved to a more seniormanagerial position in order to make way for a new, younger coach suchas David Blatt.
How Gershon and Mizrahi must be regretting the way they treated Mekel and Katash now.
The future belongs to the victors.