What's Behind Pini's Apology?

Maccabi Tel Aviv co-owner Ra'anan Katz arrives from Miami next week, committed to solve team's problems.

If anyone thought that the management of Maccabi Tel Aviv focused its efforts this week on reviewing its new squad or finding alternatives to Rodney Buford, they are wrong.

At the top of Maccabi's agenda, in a week that began with the opening round of the Premier League, against Hapoel Jerusalem, and ends tonight with a Euroleague encounter with Lottomatica Roma, Maccabi was busy putting out the flames of the feud between co-owner Ra'anan Katz and Pini Gershon, the coach who left for Olympiacos.

The opening shot was fired last year when Katz told Haaretz, "Pini can go work someplace else," after Gershon, who led Maccabi to back-to-back Euroleague titles but lost in last season's final to CSKA Moscow, complained that he had been given limited resources to build his roster.

Gershon hit back in his usual caustic style, saying he "doesn't work with people with mental disabilities."

Earlier this week Gershon sent a letter of apology to Maccabi, raising the question why in the middle of a season with Olympiacos he was suddenly hit with remorse.

The answer perhaps is to be found at Maccabi. After all, he sent his letter to the club, and not to Katz.

Next week, Katz, who resides in the United States and who also owns a stake in the Miami Heat, will visit Israel for the first time this season. Katz, who pours millions of dollars into Maccabi, doesn't like the fact that he has become unpopular with fans, and so it is in everyone's interest to ease the tensions.

"I don't know who wrote the letter and I don't care. Gershon signed it and as far as I'm concerned, the whole affair is over," Katz told Haaretz yesterday, after having said only four days ago: "As far as I'm concerned, he [Gershon] doesn't exist."

Katz isn't the only one with a major beef against Gershon. Co-owners David Federman and Shimon Mizrahi have also had run-ins with the provocative coach, but the fans at Yad Eliahu are behind the former coach every inch of the way, and with the team stuttering, everyone wants to make sure they are quiet tonight. After all if Katz gets an earful from the vocal crowd at Yad Eliahu, he might have second thoughts, and a budget of $15 million a season would become a sum that Maccabi can only dream about.

Katz had his reservations about several of Maccabi's signings over the summer. He thought the decision to bring in Rodney Buford was mistaken, for example, and he was skeptical about Noel Felix and Will Bynum. Katz said that Maccabi would have been better off waiting for the NBA teams to make their final cut.

"Look what wonderful players are available now," he said yesterday. "But on the other hand, I understood coach Neven Spahija's desire to start camp with a full roster."

Either way, Katz will be in Israel next week, and he will attempt to put things right. "I am coming to Israel to try and find a solution, and it might be that we will have to dig into our pockets," he said. "I promise the fans that I will do everything to make sure that Maccabi has a team that will compete in the Final Four again this year."

Katz also expressed his faith in Gershon's successor, Neven Spahija. "If you ask me, he is an excellent coach and a wonderful person. I think our staff this year is better than in previous years. Although the situation isn't optimal I will give my full backing to Spahija."

And everyone knows what happens when a coach in Israel gets the backing of the management.