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Avram Grant (2007-2008)


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Avram Grant (2007-2008)

Written by Loz in July 2008

grant%20pen%20pic.gif The shock sacking of Jose Mourinho in September 2007 led to huge speculation about who would be taking over as Chelsea’s new manager. Big names were thrown around like diced carrots in a drunk man’s vomit – Capello, Rijkaard, Ancelotti, Hiddink, Scolari, Lippi, Klinsmann etc. It surely needed a high profile character to fill the void left by the man girls fancied and men secretly fancied too (except Liam, he is the fussy type).

It is safe to say that a few jaws dropped when Chelsea announced that their new manager would be their current ‘Director of Football’ Avram Grant.

Already in his early 50s his CV was limited to domestic club football in Israel and a spell as manager of the Israeli national team where he achieved relative success by almost qualifying for the 2006 World Cup when they went undefeated in their qualifying group but missed out finishing third behind France and Switzerland.

Most fans, myself included, were convinced this was just an interim measure designed to see Chelsea through a few rocky months until such time as we could appoint whoever the club had deemed to be Jose’s long term replacement.

avram%20appointed.gif However the noises coming out of the club were that Grant was the permanent choice. It is fair to say that this went down like Gillian Taylforth with a number of fans, some of whom were not prepared to give Grant a chance even before the team had kicked a ball under his guidance. Some were simply bitter about losing Mourinho, others didn’t like the fact that Grant had appeared to get the job purely because he was Abramovich’s mate whilst others just scratched their heads at the logic of appointing a manager so lacking in top level football experience.

There was even some who openly expressed a desire to see Chelsea lose as they though it would hasten his departure – this is not something I ever signed up for and, at the risk of offending a few of the forum regulars on here, it was an opinion I found pretty shameful.

Things went from bad to worse for Grant when he announced he wouldn’t be taking charge of the team for his first game (a 2-0 defeat away at Manchester United, a game in which we were actually looking the more likely to win until an appalling decision to send off Mikel) due to the fact he had to fast for Yom Kippur. Again there were some Chelsea fans outraged by this and again I will probably offend some forum regulars by saying that if I thought the desire to see Chelsea lose was shameful then the fact that they expected Grant to simply stick his finger up at his religion was downright disgraceful. This was, after all, a man whose own father had been forced to dig graves for his parents and five brothers and sisters due to his religion and the impact of the Nazis.

Anyway back to the football…

dec%2007%20barking%20orders%20vs%20west% The 2-0 reversal at the hands of Manchester United was followed by a 16 game unbeaten run after which any remaining hope that Grant was a temporary solution were finally dashed when he was offered a four year contract which he duly signed. The 6-0 demolition of Manchester City (up till that point unbeaten at home in the league) saw Chelsea put on a display of attractive football of a calibre we probably hadn’t witnessed since Arjen Robben broke into the team in Mourinho’s first season in charge.

Unfortunately that game was largely an exception as our football predominantly carried on in much the same fashion as it had been under Jose, fairly tedious and focused on stamina over style.

This was seized upon by those desperate to continually pick holes in Grant’s management as they repeatedly stated the fact that Grant was supposed to be charged with bringing about a more attractive style of football. On this front Grant did himself few favours by making a few statements along the lines of ‘playing football the right way’ (which were fairly transparent digs at the football we had played under Jose) although the seemingly incessant referrals to this by people looking to attack Grant would have you believe he made statements like it on a daily basis.

lc%20final.gif Ultimately Grant failed to deliver silverware in the manner Jose did meaning that, unlike Jose, he couldn’t get away with fairly turgid football. This get out clause was denied him due to two pathetic attempts to win domestic cups. This, perhaps more than anything, highlighted a major flaw in his managerial ability. His first opportunity to win silverware was the League Cup final where we faced Spurs at Wembley. Losing to Spurs at anything is a hideous experience, losing to them in a cup final is just bloody awful! There were many fans who stated before the game that if they had a choice between losing the Champions League or losing the League Cup final to Spurs they would choose losing the Champions League – this I understand entirely and agree with!

Lose it we did. It was a shockingly poor performance by us. The players made more individual errors in 120 minutes than Dave Beasant made in his entire career and Avram just sat there looking bemused and seemingly enable to fathom out any viable remedy to the fact Tottenham were giving us a spanking!

This cup embarrassment was soon followed by a further one as we were dumped out of the FA Cup by lower division opposition in Barnsley. Again it was a truly gutless performance and as much as I am one to say that players have to take their share of the blame for a performance like that you can’t get away from the little voice in the back of your head saying that we would have never lost to Barnsley under Jose! In addition the cup final defeat to Tottenham resulted in a no punches pulled meeting between the players to allow them to get a few things off their chest in terms of their own and other players’ performance levels. That this meeting was held was revealed by John Terry and it seems that Grant was either not in attendance and quite possibly not invited. Possibly a sign of a strong captain and possibly the sign of a weak manager.

celebrating%20win%20over%20man%20utd.gif Grant was under further pressure due to having never won a game against any of the other ‘big four’ teams. This, combined with the two cup defeats, had people questioning his mental strength and ability to motivate his team for the big matches. This criticism was silenced abruptly when Chelsea beat Arsenal and Manchester United 2-1 to help pull us back to joint top of the table (second on goal difference) with just two games remaining. The Arsenal game was particularly satisfying for Grant as with Chelsea trailing by a goal he made two substitutions which were greeted by sections of the Chelsea crowd with the condescending ‘You Don’t Know What You’re Doing’ chant.

We went on to win 2-1 and just maybe a little humble pie was consumed (although I doubt it, they probably just forgot all about the ‘you can’t win big matches’ line and found something else to highlight – perhaps ‘your wife drank piss on TV’ – which she did!’)

Manchester United’s vastly superior goal difference to ours meant we needed to win our last two remaining games and hope Utd drew one of theirs. As it happened they won both of theirs and we conceded a last gasp equaliser in our final game (something we did too many times over the season) thus we ended the season in second place just as we had the previous season.

cl%20final.gif There was still a little hope on the horizon. At the end of April Chelsea had knocked Liverpool out of the Champions League 4-3 on aggregate to set up their first ever appearance in a Champions League final. With Manchester United also reaching the final it was an all English affair (well not really but you know what I mean) and the final was to be held in Moscow. Other than the first half an hour Chelsea were much the better side throughout normal time and extra time however the game finished 1-1 and we were faced with the lottery of penalties. We took an early advantage when Ronaldo fluffed his lines and JT stepped up to take our fifth penalty. If he scored the trophy was ours however his foot slipped from under him as he ran up to take it and his effort ended up clipping the outside of the post. In sudden death, Anelka who had refused to take one of the earlier penalties due not being on the pitch long enough had his decidedly half hearted effort saved and Andy’s long journey home with the Shed End banner began!

On May 24th, 2008, three days after the final in Moscow Chelsea announced that Avram Grant had been sacked. He was offered his old job as the director of football but he turned it down. Grant was reported to have told friends in Israel that he felt "betrayed, upset and angry" by the sacking.

Jose Mourinho, who was unhappy when Avram Grant was first appointed as Director of Football, couldn’t resist a little pop at him from his, at that point, unemployed position. "In my philosophy of leadership it was a very bad one because in football 'almost' means defeat and Chelsea almost won the Carling Cup, almost won the Champions League, and almost won the Premier League. Almost is nothing. After two titles per season for the last three years there were zero titles this season, which in my philosophy means a really bad season. Maybe in the philosophy of a loser this was a great season, which I respect."

What Jose said is, of course, entirely correct. After the previous three seasons, a season with no silverware has to be regarded as a poor one in light of expectations however the fact that he feels the need to voice it publicly says more about how bitter he still feels about his dismissal than anything else. Again I will annoy many forum regulars on here but when I read that statement back it makes me hope more than anything that Inter win nothing under Jose – maybe then he will think twice about twisting the knife from the comfort of his living room.

leaving.gif Do I think Avram Grant was good enough to be our long term manager? In all honesty, no. Stats will show that his results over an admittedly short period of time are comparable with Jose’s and Ferguson’s however we all know stats don’t always paint a true picture (well nearly all of us eh Qaz). When the pressure was on and big decisions were needed he was often found a little wanting and I am not convinced he had the mental toughness and will to implement the changes which will always be required simply to keep up with the pack let alone be at the head of it.

Do I think he was treated fairly be sections of the Chelsea fans? No. For me there was a little too much blind hatred for a man who was simply hated for not being Jose and for taking on the job in the first place.

Nobody is immune from criticism however where Grant was concerned I think there was a pocket of fans who criticised him regardless of what he did, and when he proved a criticism wrong they weren’t mature enough to hold up their hands and give credit where it was due.

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