Ironi Nahariya will come up against a familiar face tonight in its Group 4 Europe League game when it plays Dynamo Moscow and its new coach, Zvi Sherf. The game will be only the fifth time an Israeli team has come up against a European team coached by an Israeli.
While Sherf's appointment as coach of Dynamo Moscow may not have made him the commander of the Russian Interior Ministry's dreaded special forces, the appointment of an Israeli to head a team associated with the former Soviet regime for seven decades is no minor matter.
Even the appointment of a Jewish chairman would have been unthinkable in the Soviet Union, even during the Perestroika era. But times are a-changing. The club's present chairman, Yvgeni Gomelski, brother of "Alexander the Great," decided to dismiss Valdemaras Chomicius - one of the greatest players in the history of the Soviet Union - and bring in Sherf in his place.
The official reason given for Chomicius' dismissal was that his role as advisor to the Lithuanian national team was interfering with his performance as coach of Dynamo, causing him to lose three of the club's first four games. Dynamo lost to Ural and CSKA Moscow in the Russian Supraleague; but what really got Gomelski going was the loss to Dynamo Moscow Region in the charged regional derby.
In Sherf's first game in charge, Dynamo thrashed Saratov 90-53, with the vocal backing of a battalion of soldiers brought in to cheer on the team.
Dynamow Moscow's basketball team has never reached the heights attained by the soccer club, which featured the legendary Lev Yashin. It won the Soviet Union championship in 1937 and 1948, but had to wait until the early nineties before making two losing play-off final appearances against CSKA. The club then ran into financial difficulties and was disbanded in 1997.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Gomelski pulled strings and the team was back in action, starting off in the Russian second division, from which it was promoted in its first season under Sergei Bazerevich. It finished last year in third place in the Supraleague, but a 3-0 loss in the play-offs to Ural ended Bazervich' career with Dynamo.
Gomelski believes that with a budget of close to $3 million, his team is worth a place in the final of the Europe League and a top three finish in the Supraleague.
Russian sports journalists warn of two things that may stand between Sherf and Gomelski. In the final minutes of Dynamo's game against Novisad in the Europe League last week, Gomelski shouted out "Ikonomo, Ikonomo" - a call for the Greek star to get more time on the court. The bench and half the arena looked over amazed at the chairman, but Sherf turned a blind eye.
On Saturday, against Samara, Gomelski, who wants young Russian players to be given more game time, told Sergei Demeshkin to warm up. Demeshkin spent no less than two quarters doing so before daring to approach Sherf on the bench. Sherf ignored the chairman's calls and only in the final quarter brought Demeshkin on for a short spell.
In the meantime, Dynamo, with Sherf, hasn't stopped winning - notching up two victories in the Russian league and another two in the Europe League.
The coach calls the shots
Sherf clarified his views on player-coach relations last week in an interview with the Russian sports daily Sport Express. "I don't think that a coach should adopt a democratic style with his players. There has to be discipline; the coach is the leader and the final decision is always his. A coach is the second most important person in the hierarchy, after the chairman. Everybody at Dynamo needs to start thinking differently."
Sherf told Sports Express that Dusan Ivkovic's methods at CSKA Moscow can serve as an example for Dynamo. "Ivkovic's style is ideal as far as I'm concerned. He is one of the best coaches in Europe - if not the best. I appreciate his work very much and believe that he took CSKA up a notch, to the highest level in Europe.
Gomelski believes that the Russian league is the second best in Europe, while Sherf is of the opinion that both the Italian and Spanish leagues are superior, but adds: "One Russian representative in the Euroleague, while Italy and Spain have four, is a travesty that needs to be rectified as soon as possible. Three Russian teams in the Euroleague sounds a lot more logical to me."
Tonight, after a break of three years, Sherf will once again stand on the sidelines in the Holy Land. He is in an excellent position to propel himself upward and has a chance to complete his contract with Dynamo "to the satisfaction of both sides."
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