Axed with his team at the top

Itzhak Shum, the Israeli soccer coach who led Panathinakos to the double last season – including the team’s first league title in eight years – and currently has the side perched at the top of the Greek first division after three rounds, resigned yesterday in a decision that appeared to be precipitated by the club’s administration. It is believed that Shum’s deteriorating ties with the team’s manager Velimir Zajec, a former star player with the club, was the primary reason behind his forced resignation. Shum had apparently disagreed with Zajec on various issues, including some of the club’s signings. The club’s major shareholder Yiannis Vardinoyiannis reached the decision following a meeting with Shum and team manager Zajec. He said: «I leave as a friend, but now it’s not the time to elaborate on the reasons of this split. I hope that the team will remain where I have left them now, in first place.» The mood had been noticeably heavy at the club in recent days, and Shum, it can be assumed, had begun counting his remaining days, even though Panathinaikos leads the Greek league’s pack, two points ahead of AEK and Aegaleo. Having survived for 15 months on the Panathinaikos bench, Shum was the second coaching casualty in Greece this season following last week’s sacking of Angelos Anastasiadis at PAOK. Czech coach Zdenek Skazny, currently working as a talent scout for the club and who formerly coached Cretan club OFI, is being touted as the man most likely to succeed Shum. The 56-year-old Shum joined Panathinaikos in June 2003 after a successful spell at Maccabi Haifa in Israel. During the 2002-03 season, he helped Maccabi become the first Israeli side ever to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League. During that competition it registered victories against both Manchester United and Olympiakos. Under Shum’s leadership in the Champions League this season, Panathinaikos won its opening group match at home against Norwegian club Rosenborg by the score of 2-1. Last week, in its second game, the Greek club went down 1-0 to PSV Eindhoven away, after a late goal by the Dutch side ruined Panathinaikos’s defensive-minded game strategy.