John Gregory's appointment as Maccabi Ahi Nazareth FC coach may have raised a few eyebrows but the man himself is thriving in the lower echelons of the Ligat Ha'al.
Gregory, who can call upon a wealth of managerial experience in England with the likes of Aston Villa FC, Derby County FC and Queens Park Rangers FC, assumed the reins at the end of 2009 following Eli Mahfud's departure. His predecessor had guided the club to promotion to Israel's top tier last season but left in early December following six successive defeats. "A lot of very well known Israelis had told me not to go to Nazareth," said Gregory, 55. "But the more they told me not to go, the more I wanted to."
Though the club have a limited budget compared to their peers, Gregory had no qualms about accepting the offer, having been away from the front line since an ill-fated spell at QPR ended in October 2007. "In England, things kind of changed for me," he explained. "I made some bad career moves and messed it up a little bit. At Nazareth, what can I mess up?" Entering unchartered waters himself, Gregory is assisted by former Nazareth and Israel full-back Najwan Grayeb, whom he signed while at Aston Villa.
The ex-England midfielder had his tongue firmly in his cheek when asked what he might ask for from a Christmas in Nazareth. "Maybe a couple of defenders, a midfield player, a couple of strikers, maybe even a winger," he quipped. "Not eleven new players but four or five would be nice. The most important thing for me is that I am here in Nazareth. We are fighting for our lives to stay in the Premier League against all the odds. It is going to be very difficult but I have said a few prayers and hopefully they will be answered."
Four games without defeat since a 3-0 reverse at Hapoel Petach-Tikva FC on 2 January helped Nazareth climb off the bottom of the table and hinted at a changing of the tide. However, a 1-0 loss to fellow strugglers Hapoel Ramat-Gan FC has brought the club back down to earth and left them still very much needing to defy the odds.
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