Grant's Chelsea job a new high for Israeli coach

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JERUSALEM, Sep 20 (Reuters) Avram Grant is one of Israel's most successful coaches and a former mentor of the national team but he is not likely to be as colourful a character as his predecessor at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho.

Grant, 52, never played professionally and turned to coaching at a young age for the youth team of Hapoel Petah Tikva, his hometown club, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.

His easy-going and relaxed style earned respect from his players in Israel but at the same time there has been no love lost between him and other Israeli coaches.

Former national coach Shlomo Scharf has often been scathing about Grant's coaching abilities, saying that he was ''an illusionist'' incapable of using a proper game plan and often relying on luck rather than skill.

Incumbent Israel coach Dror Kashtan, Grant's successor, refuses to acknowledge him.

Their feud dates from Kashtan's ousting as Maccabi Tel Aviv boss after he led them to the league and cup double in 1992, with Grant appointed in his place.

However Ran Ben-Shimon, coach of Premier League Hapoel Kiryat Shmona, was full of praise for Grant after Chelsea announced that he and Steve Clarke will take charge of the first team following Mourinho's departure on Thursday.

He told Israeli sports web site ONE: ''The fact that Avram Grant has become Chelsea coach is the same as Neil Armstrong's historic landing on the moon.'' Former Israel Football Association chairman Gavri Levi recognised that, regardless of how long Grant fills the job, ''his standing as a coach will be strengthened.'' DOMESTIC SUCCESS After leaving Hapoel Petah Tikva, whom he turned into a leading club in the early 1990s, Grant had further domestic success in Israel with Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa, winning trophies with both.

He coached Israel in two qualifying campaigns and quit in October 2005 after four years in charge.

Grant's first spell leading up to Euro 2004 was a failure, but he experienced more success in the qualifying competition for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany.

Although unbeaten in that campaign, Israel finished third in their group behind France and Switzerland, who pipped them for a playoff spot on goal difference with four wins and six draws.

Despite this, he acquired a reputation for being lucky with his sides often scoring late goals to save him from the wrath of critics.

His linkup with Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich came when he was designated to coach Hapoel Tel Aviv, a club that was due to be bought in 2006 by Israeli diamond magnate Lev Leviev.

Leviev later dropped his plans to buy Hapoel but Grant, although left without a club, had earned the friendship of Abramovich.

His next move, to England, was to become an assistant to Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth. Even then, in Israel his move to Chelsea was seen as only a matter of time because of his close ties to Abramovich.

Reuters PDS RN1829

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