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Grant 'snubbed' by players

Duncan Castles

Sunday March 2, 2008

The Observer

Avram Grant was snubbed three times by Chelsea's playing staff in the wake of last weekend's League Cup final defeat to Tottenham Hotspur. The Israeli manager, who accused the media of disseminating 'lies' about his position ahead of yesterday's emphatic win at West Ham, saw his authority questioned after calling a team meeting on Tuesday morning.

Though Grant, who says there is 'no problem' in his relationship with the players, scheduled the training ground gathering for 11am, his squad failed to turn up at the designated time. Upon instructing a club employee to summon them for the session, he was informed that the players were holding a separate meeting of their own that would not finish for another 10 minutes. When the squad still had not assembled at that time, Grant made his way to the players, only to be told they still had matters to discuss and was asked to leave the room. The manager did so without complaint.

Once the players had concluded their gathering, they again proved uncooperative. Seeking to end reports of squad discontent at his handling of the final, Grant asked the players to voice any concerns. It is understood that because they were worried that what they said would be relayed to owner Roman Abramovich, no team member spoke up.

Grant had been called in to Cobham the previous day when Abramovich demanded talks with the first team's entire coaching staff. Unprecedented in the past four seasons at Chelsea, the Russian's request resulted in Grant cancelling an arrangement with the Israel Football Federation to study for the Uefa Pro-Licence he must obtain to continue managing the team next season.

Abramovich had also spent a significant length of time in the Chelsea dressing room at Wembley after Sunday's 2-1 defeat, been present for each of the team's final three training days before the final and held private discussions with Grant on the eve of the game.

There remains considerable discontent among the Chelsea squad about preparations for the final. Having witnessed Abramovich address Michael Essien about errors in his play after a Champions League group game this season, some players believe the owner influences team selection and strategy through his deputy Eugene Tenenbaum. Grant partially denied this on Friday, saying: 'Roman Abramovich has never even seen me about one player that he needs to play, never said to me anything about picking the team.'

Whoever did choose Sunday's team and tactics, the players were unhappy that they did not know who they would be playing alongside nor which formation they would be using until the day of the game. Ashley Cole learned of his omission in the pages of a national newspaper, Michael Ballack believed he was to start only to be supplanted by Shaun Wright-Phillips, while Alex was asked if he would stand down for John Terry on the Saturday. 'It was frustrating,' Alex told Brazilian television last week. 'The boss called me over to talk on Saturday. He told me that I'd been playing well, but it's the English cup and that Terry is the captain, he has to play. He asked me if there was any problem and I said, "No, no problem at all. I'm here to do my job."'

From Thursday onwards, senior players had asked whether the team would be playing in their customary 433 formation or another shape to accommodate the selection of Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka as joint strikers for the first time. They were told to 'wait and see' and 'not to worry' about the issue.

Adding to the tension was Terry's nervousness over being passed over for the in-form Alex. During Saturday's final training session the captain's unease spilled over into a fight with Henk ten Cate, ostensibly over the assistant coach's whistle-happy interruptions of a practice match to chide midfielder John Obi Mikel. Terry was not reassured of his place until 11pm on Saturday night.

Grant's job is not in immediate jeopardy. Abramovich has too much invested in the appointment of an under-qualified coach to one of European football's top positions to dispense with him after one Wembley defeat. Sources close to the owner insist he has not moved to change the manager nor sanctioned any approach to the Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard.

An uneasy atmosphere does remain at the club, though. Piet de Visser, who acts as a private adviser to Abramovich on football matters, is an important influence, having recommended several player purchases and the appointment of chief scout Frank Arnesen. Grant's relationship with Arnesen is described as 'frosty'.

Chelsea last night denied that players arrived late for Tuesday's meeting with Grant. They declined to comment on when Ashley Cole and Ballack discovered they were not in the cup final line-up.

Not sure if anyone read the above ?

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