Shalom, it is a Tal order. . .

Earlier today, West Ham announced the signing of Israeli international and Portsmouth defender Tal Ben-Haim on a loan until January.  The rumors of Ben-Haim’s signing have been in circulation for a while now, with an erroneous story appearing that the signing had previously been torpedoed by a failed physical.

Ben-Haim’s signing begins another chapter in the tempestouous relationship between the defender and manager Avram Grant.  While he was manager at Maccabi Tel Aviv, Grant first promoted Ben-Haim to the senior squad, and eventually sold him to Bolton Wanderers.  Ben-Haim’s performance for Bolton resulted in a 4 year deal with Chelsea in 2007.  In a twist of fate, Grant took over at Chelsea for Jose Mourinho a couple months after Ben-Haim’s signing, but after his playing time dwindled over the next couple months, Ben-Haim famously lashed out at Grant.  In an interview with The Sun he said,

“If I knew Avram Grant was going to be the coach I would have signed for another club. It was Jose who brought me here and no one except he and I know the conversation we had when he tried to sign me the first time a year ago last January. The fact is while Jose was the coach I played most of the games and people who know me know that I would not have come here to be a reserve. I knew nothing good would come for me with Grant as Chelsea coach.”

Most of Ben-Haim’s playing time had come when first choice defenders John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho were injured. With the return of those two players, and Alex becoming a strong defensive option as well, playing time for Ben-Haim was always going to be limited.  Grant didn’t help matters by trying to send Ben-Haim to train with the youth team as punishment, with only Terry’s intervention to prevent that from happening.  Grant retorted in The Telegraph,

“I don’t think José promised Ben Haim he will play before John Terry, Carvalho and Alex, It is internal business but, in my opinion, if a player was wrong we need to deal with it — in our way, my way.”

Grant was sacked in May 2008, and Ben-Haim was transferred to Manchester City in July 2008 after making 13 Premier League appearances for Chelsea.  Their paths crossed again in the 2009-2010 season at Portsmouth, with the relationship thawing a bit thanks to Pini Zahavi, an agent for both men.  A source at Portsmouth related to Israeli news site Haaretz.com,

Zahavi arranged a sulha (an Arab term for a 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.

It remains to be seen if the two men have reached an understanding, and can put aside their differences for the better of the team.  It is encouraging that Ben-Haim agreed to the loan deal in the first place, so that may be a step in the right direction. Using the past couple of seasons as a barometer for performance, it seems that Ben-Haim is not a substantially better defender than what is at West Ham right now.  He, however, does provide some much needed depth, both at the right back and center back positions.  He obviously has talent, as Chelsea is not known to sign and play many slouches, and no one can begrudge his position in the pecking order while he was there.  Not many players in the world would have been playing ahead of Terry and Carvalho, but Ben-Haim’s recent inability to hold down spots at both Manchester City and Sunderland, and also his being a contributing member to the relegation of Portsmouth last season leave some room for doubt as to what he can bring to the club.  In any case, the management team made a shrewd move in securing a short term loan with an eye to a permanent move when the loan period ends.  If Ben-Haim is able to recapture the form that made him a valued asset at Chelsea, West Ham would be in the prime position to add him for the rest of the season.  If he flops terribly, or if better options emerge, the loan means that he would not have a long-term effect on the club’s finances.

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~ by ar_sage on August 4, 2010.

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