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Grant Avram Time (article)


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http://www.sundayherald.com/sport/shfoo ... m_time.php


Chelsea?s new manager deserves more respect, writes Gabriele Marcotti

FEW PEOPLE have been more spectacularly written off before their first game in charge than Avram Grant, the man who replaced The Special One at the helm of Chelsea. Those kindest to him described him as a yes-man puppet, with little managerial nous and even less of a track record, who got his job because he happens to be the same religion as the club owner.

The ugliness of those last allegations quickly spilled over into some of the Chelsea fans and club chairman Bruce Buck complained that Grant had been subject to racist and anti-Semitic abuse during the home game against Fulham last weekend. The absurdity of some kind of Jewish anti-Mourinho conspiracy is best left to those who have a copy of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion stashed away on their bookshelves. By midweek, the message from pundits south of the border was: "Avram, you're not crap because you're Jewish, you're crap because you're crap."

Grant's credentials were placed in doubt because he doesn't have a Uefa Pro Licence and because his track record in management wasn't deemed impressive enough. Grant won four league titles and three domestic cups in Israel in a 16-year career in club management which began in 1986. As manager of Israel, he led them through an undefeated qualifying campaign for the 2006 World Cup (in a tough group which included France, Switzerland and the Republic of Ireland) and ended up missing out on goal difference.

advertisementAs track records go, it's hardly Mourinhoesque. But then compare it to his rivals. Mark Hughes only had a spell as Wales manager when he got the Blackburn job. Lawrie Sanchez had four years at Wycombe in which he lost more games than he won and an admittedly more impressive stint as Northern Ireland manager before joining Fulham. Chris Hutchings, Sammy Lee, Gareth Southgate and Roy Keane all had zero managerial experience when they were handed their first Premiership jobs. Neither did Ruud Gullit or Gianluca Vialli, two of Grant's predecessors at Chelsea, both of whom delivered silverware to Stamford Bridge. Is Grant's cv really so poor?

And then came Wednesday night. Chelsea away to Valencia in the Champions League. A crucial game, since a loss would have left them bottom of the group with a single point. And still no Frank Lampard, no Michael Ballack, no Ricardo Carvalho and John Terry playing with a broken cheekbone against a side which had won seven straight in all competitions.

Grant began proving some people wrong an hour or so before kick-off, when he submitted his team sheet. There, on the bench, was Andriy Shevchenko. Yes, Sheva, the man who, according to some, helped cost Mourinho his job. Roman Abramovich's mate, the striker who'd been imposed from above, the guy who - conventional wisdom went - Grant would always play because the Israeli manager is nothing more than a toady and a suck-up and a "thank you sir, may I have another?"-style lackey who does his master's bidding.

Except he isn't. And the Ukrainian's expensive butt cheeks firmly planted on the Mestalla bench are evident proof that Grant can be his own man.

Of course, the critics still had a dig, suggesting that his 4-3-3 was basically a rip-off of the formation Mourinho used in his first two seasons at the club. Which is wrong on two counts. Mourinho's wingers - Arjen Robben and Damien Duff in the early incarnation - were genuine wide men who stayed up the pitch and remained in wide positions in an effort to stretch the opposing back four (which is what opened lanes down the middle for Lampard to run into). Grant's wide men in Valencia, Joe Cole and Florent Malouda, had far more licence to roam and were expected to track back defensively. Indeed, the goal which sealed Chelsea's 2-1 win was a direct result of Cole coming back to win the ball in midfield, before unleashing a picture-perfect pass into the path of Didier Drogba, who notched the winner.

Cole was ecstatic after the game, telling the press that Chelsea were "11 brothers" on the pitch. Another case of sucking up to the new boss? Maybe. But it can also be that Cole realises that a shift in Chelsea's direct style to a more structured approach where the ball is delivered to feet rather than to Drogba's head could benefit someone like him. For all his talent - and the hype which surrounded him ever since he first made a splash as a 16-year-old wunderkind at West Ham - Cole was somewhat marginal to Chelsea under Mourinho, starting little more than a third of the club's Premiership games in the past three seasons.

Another twist in the tale came on Thursday. Most of us - yours truly included - assumed that Grant was effectively a caretaker, charged with getting Chelsea into the Champions League next season and, perhaps, delivering a decent run in a cup competition (whether in Europe or domestically). He would then make way for the proverbial big-name boss. That reading of the situation was apparently blown apart when it emerged the club were looking to bring in Henk ten Cate as Grant's assistant.

Ten Cate is in his second season as Ajax manager - they lost the title on goal difference last year, but failed to get past the Champions League preliminary rounds this year and last. He had a successful spell as Frank Rijkaard's assistant at Barcelona and previously made his name with overachieving smaller clubs like Vitesse Arnhem and NAC Breda in the Dutch league. At 52, and having finally been given the chance at a big club, it would appear the only way that he would accept Chelsea would be if he were given some kind of long-term assurances.

But if that were to be the case, it would imply that Grant is here to stay next season as well. That's because, when most high-profile managers switch clubs, they bring with them their own staff of trusted assistants. And if Chelsea landed a Marcello Lippi or a Juande Ramos next season, what would become of Ten Cate?

Grant spoke openly about the Dutchman, saying there were plenty of job openings at the club since Mourinho had taken his staff with him. Ten Cate would replace Baltemar Brito, the previous assistant. Except while Brito is a relative no-name, Ten Cate has a much higher profile. A move for him would have major repercussions across the coaching staff.

In any case, the Avram Grant Experience travels to the Reebok today with another decimated squad. Drogba and John Obi Mikel are suspended, Michael Ballack and Shaun Wright-Philips are injured, Lampard and Michael Essien are highly doubtful.

Chelsea need another three points to keep the bandwagon rolling. And yet you can't help but feel that, unless they rattle off 10 wins on the trot, Grant still won't get any kind of respect from the punditocracy.

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