Israeli international Tal Ben Haim
Israeli international Tal Ben Haim in the colors of Manchester City last season. Photo by AP
Text size

Tal Ben Haim, the Israeli international who spent last season with Avram Grant at Portsmouth, is on the verge of officially rejoining his old boss at West Ham United.

Ben Haim passed two medical exams yesterday, paving the way for his addition to the Hammers' roster. Although both sides appear to be engaged in last-minute haggling over money, observers in England expect the Israeli to sign a contract within 48 hours.

The news of the medical contradicted a report in yesterday's Jewish Chronicle online edition, stating that Ben Haim had failed the health exam, and that his move to east London was in doubt.

Ben Haim said the Chronicle report was erroneous, that he had been checked by a West Ham team doctor and by a private physician. The defender said he is considering filing a lawsuit against the Jewish Chronicle reporter.

The anticipated acquisition of Ben Haim will provide another chapter in the long history of relations between the Israel national star and Grant. Ben Haim's first encounter with the now-celebrated manager was with Premier League side Maccabi Tel Aviv, where Grant was the coach. After six eventful seasons at Maccabi, which included several highly publicized spats with players and coaches, Ben Haim joined English side Bolton Wanderers, where he matured into a reliable defender for a successful club. In 2007, Ben Haim reached the pinnacle of his career in signing a four-year deal with Chelsea. A year later, Grant was named manager of the Blues. Both men would reunite once again at Portsmouth in 2009.

The tumultuous relationship between Grant and Ben Haim grew even chillier when the coach demoted the defender due to poor play and pressure from disgruntled fans. Ben Haim's lone season at Chelsea featured just 13 appearances. Most memorable from that period was an interview Ben Haim granted to the Sun newspaper in the U.K., in which he lambasted Grant.

The furious manager sought to retaliate by sending Ben Haim to the youth team, a move that was staunchly opposed by team captain John Terry. Grant eventually capitulated, an act that many viewed as the beginning of the end for him at Stamford Bridge.

Ben Haim was forced to once again play for Grant last season at Portsmouth. A Pompey source told Haaretz that the tension between the two men was palpable, and that it was the intervention of Pini Zahavi, a prominent agent who represents both men, that salvaged the relationship.

"Zahavi arranged a sulha," the source said, using the famous Arab term for reconciliation meeting. "Even [Yitzhak] Rabin and [Shimon] Peres did a sulha. It doesn't mean they didn't genuinely mean what they had said about each other, or that they forgave each other, but they learned to work together and they understood each other's advantages. You have to remember they have a beautiful history together."

Indeed, it was Grant who first discovered Ben Haim when the defender was a 16-year-old with Maccabi Tel Aviv's youth team. The coach nurtured him, promoted him to the adult squad and saw him become Israel's leading defender. Now Ben Haim, who realizes this may be his last chance to make a mark in the English Premiership after disappointing stints with Chelsea, Pompey, and Sunderland, is once again joining forces with Grant, for better or worse.