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Avram Grant Meets The Blues Faithful

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By: Mark Worrall

Date: 10 July 2008

In this global exclusive Chelsea author Mark Worrall finds the words to describe what happened when ex-Blues manager Avram Grant popped into a renown SW6 hostelry for a spot of light refreshment and a chinwag with several bemused cfcuk staffers.

Surreal would be the adjective of choice that I, along with three other privileged Blues supporters, would use if we were asked to describe with a single word the scenario that unfolded on Tuesday evening in legendary Stamford Bridge drinker The So Bar. We had congregated there to share our thoughts about Avram Grant’s brief tenure as Chelsea manager with an Israeli TV crew who had made the request to cfcuk guru David Johnstone.

So there we were; David J, Chelsea youth Charlie Harris, musical youth Graham Bush and my good-self … lager-handed, under the glare of the TV spotlight, discussing the matters at hand, when into the bar strolled a familiar figure.

The last time I saw Avram Grant in person, albeit from a distance, was in Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in the wake of Chelsea’s cruel Champions League defeat at the hands of Do You Come From Manchester United. In the small hours of the morning, in the midst of a deluge of biblical proportions, Mr Grant, soaked to the skin, with an inconsolable John Terry at his shoulder had walked stoically across the verdant pitch, a man seemingly resigned to the destiny that would inevitably await him.

Not for Avram, the dodgy rave-central kagoul sported by his manically grinning, gum-chewing adversary Fergie. Not for Avram, a Steve McClaren-style losers umbrella. No, with quiet dignity and grace he’d withstood the torrential rain forlornly waiting his turn to ascend the steps to collect his loser’s medal. After witnessing the ridiculous sight of a smug looking Peter Kenyon being the first up those steps to collect a medal for himself I couldn’t help but feel sorry Grant as he joined the back of the queue. For poor Avram, the nearly man whose luck finally ran out when JT slipped as he stepped up to take that fateful penalty, the writing was on the wall.

Two days later, in typically brusque Chelsea fashion, Avram Grant was sacked. Personally, I felt he deserved better and as it turned out I wasn’t alone. The media, so quick to vilify Mr Grant’s credentials tactics and manner in the days, weeks and months that followed his appointment suddenly offered words not only of support but praise of Chelsea’s record under his stewardship.

Mr Average Grant ain’t so average now, wrote Rob Hughes in the Times, when Avram Grant eclipsed Jose Mourinho by leading the Blues to their first Champions League Final. The triumphs of Chelsea this past week, and the prospect of Avram Grant going toe-to-toe with Sir Alex Ferguson with the Premier League and Champions League double at stake, surely affords the Israeli many apologies from the players, media and doubters of Stamford Bridge. Hughes wasn’t far short of the mark. But Chelsea and Grant fell at the final fence.

Nevertheless, in the final analysis, Mr Grant’s record was none too shabby.

PREMIER LEAGUE Games 32 Won 22 Drawn 8 Lost 2 Goals For 58 Goals Against 20 ALL COMPETITIONS Games 54 Won 36 Drawn 13 Lost 5 Goals For 97 Goals Against 36. Anywhere else, this would have been commendable … but this is new Chelsea, impatient Chelsea, impossible is nothing Chelsea.

Senior Blues players stepped forward to endorse Grant’s achievements. Ricardo Carvalho, who was known to be close to Grant’s predecessor, said of the Israeli, ‘Avram did a great job, but they still decided to sack him. Yet after Jose left, he picked up the team and got good results. We had a great run and in the Champions League he was only one penalty from winning the competition. It was very cruel. He did a great job and he could have carried on, but they decided to let him go. It was very ruthless.’

Blues fans, even a smattering of those amongst the ‘you don’t know what you’re doing brigade’ were philosophical about the merits and demerits of Grant’s sacking. Jose Mourinho was always going to be a hard act to follow. The Special One replaced by the Normal One. Average Grant. If Chelsea won it was down to the players Avram Grant had inherited, if they lost it was down to him.

Character forming stuff, and a lesser man might have chosen to walk away in the face of such adversity. Slowly but surely though, scepticism turned to begrudging respect as the Blues recovered from a shaky start to the season and the traumatic departure of Jose to pursue glory on all four fronts. Sadly it wasn’t to be, and the outcome was all too predictable. The general consensus amongst our small number was that with the benefit of hindsight, things might have been easier for all concerned had the Omnipotent One installed Avram Grant as caretaker manager when he culled the Special One. No pressure Avi, see how you get on. Win the Champions League and the jobs yours. Hindsight though is a rare and beautiful thing … seldom seen in the gloriously unpredictable world of Chelsea Football Club.

As the curtain came down on yet another dramatic chapter in the Blues colourful recent history, once again there were more questions than answers … most of them beginning with the prefixes; What if? and Just supposing.

‘Just supposing Avram Grant walked into the drinker right now and provided his own unique perspective on Chelsea … that might help,’ Charlie had enthused. We’d had a good laugh at that. ‘Yeah it might help, but it’s not the sort of thing that ever happens does it?’ chuckled Graham. We’d all nodded in agreement and were still nodding, mouths slightly agog, as Mr Grant sauntered into the bar, winked at his compatriots behind the camera, walked over to where we were stood and introduced himself.

Softly spoken and modest in appearance, there is a steadying calmness about Avram Grant’s demeanour which is both peaceful and engaging. When you spend time in the mans company it’s easy to understand why he was credited with swiftly steadying the good ship Chelsea and plotting a safe course through choppy waters when Captain Jose was thrown overboard by impatient owner Mr Abramovich.

With a twinkle in his eyes and a disarming smile on his sun-tanned face, Avram

Grant answered our questions with honesty, integrity and humour, comfortable with the situation, happy to be in the company of real Chelsea supporters.

Without the benefit of a tape recording of the conversation that took place, the last thing I would propose to do in this article is put words in Mr Grant’s mouth. What follows is an account of my recollections of the discussion:

With the introductions out of the way, we enquired after Mr Grant’s welfare, sympathising with him over the roughshod manner in which he had been given his P45. Avram explained that whilst he was disappointed, he hadnt been surprised having seen what had happened to his predecessor Jose Mourinho. He used the analogy of a man walking into a casino and winning with his first couple of spins on the roulette wheel thereby creating an expectation of continued success to exemplify the origins of Mr Abramovich’s ongoing impatience with his managers.

Would he still have been Chelsea manager had John Terry converted his spot kick? Avram shrugged his shoulders. ‘Who knows?’ he replied. ‘What can I tell you. We were just 10 centimetres away from glory’.

We applauded him for the compassion that he had shown JT and also the support and understanding given to Frank Lampard at the time of his mother’s untimely death. Avram told us that the players meant everything to him. Did he think that Super Frank would remain at the club? ‘Yes of course, he loves Chelsea, he loves the fans, he does not want to leave.’

When we asked him if any members of the squad had given him a difficult time or challenged his authority he swiftly quelled our presumptions praising the players for their professionalism throughout his tenure.

We asked him how he’d felt about the ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ jibes which had emanated on more than one occasion from sections of Chelsea’s support? He told us how it had made him more determined, without ever admitting to having made a mistake.

Surely the League Cup Final defeat at the hands of Sp*rs was down to a lack of judgement on his part? Avram Grant staunchly defended his team selection on the day and the omission from the starting line-up of live wire cfcuk favourite Joe Cole explaining that with the Blues playing a game every three days he had to get his priorities in order and the Premiership and Champions League took precedence over the League Cup. I for one wasn’t convinced. Perhaps he hadn’t understood the importance that all Blues supporters placed on what are win-at-all-costs fixtures with the L*lywhites. Yes he knew, the players knew, but he’d picked the team that he’d felt was right to do the job on the day and that was that.

The home victory over Arsenal saw the jeers turn to cheers. The famously questionable substitutions that subsequently proved inspirational, was that his best moment as Chelsea manager? Grant smiled, he’d been happy enough that day, but he’d been even happier for his players. We put it to him that it was this trait in his character that had finally begun to win supporters over. Here was a modest man, uninterested in securing personal applause, unfazed by continued villification, who was prepared to defend his players to the hilt. Mr Grant seemed surprised that we would place such emphasis on this until we explained that Chelsea FC should be all about the football and the club and not about egotistical individuals.

How about the home victory over Liverpool in the Champions League semi-final second leg, that was a magical night for Blues fans how was it for you? Avram’s answer as I recall shed much light on the curious question about the origins of his steely resolve. At the final whistle with arms aloft, he’d dropped to his knees on the Stamford Bridge turf in what we’d perceived to be a celebration of the result his players had achieved. Maybe it was relief at some hitherto concealed stay of execution being granted? No, Avram informed us. It was because it was the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. (It is common knowledge that Mr Grant’s father, a survivor of the holocaust, had dug the graves with his own hands for his father, mother and siblings.)

What about the opportunity he had been presented with to return to his former position of Director of Football? Grant was direct in his response, pointing out his love of the game, of being in the dressing room, and the day to day involvement with the players. ‘I want to be the manager.’

When asked if he could enlighten us as to what exactly a director of football does Mr Grant laughed. He understood why we might think it was a jobs-for-the-boys type role and then regaled us with an entertaining anecdote involving one of his best pals Harry Redknapp with whom he told us he’d had dinner the previous evening. Having joined Chelsea as technical director from Pompey where he’d held a similar role, Grant informed us that for several months after he’d taken up his new appointment Harry continued to telephone him asking for advice and guidance on a raft of different matters despite constant jocular reminders that they no longer had the same employer.

So what next for Avram Grant? Recent stories were linking him with a couple of vacancies at international level, what was his preference? Club or country? Club management is where Grant perceives it’s at and a return to the regular cut and thrust of league football cannot come too soon for him as far as he is concerned.

Avram Grant was full of praise for Chelsea supporters bearing no ill will to those who reamined critical of his abilities to the bitter end. I’m sure if hadn’t been for the fact that time was marching on and the barman had called last orders he would have been happy to stay and talk a good while longer.

Respect was due to Mr Grant and as we thanked him for his time and watched him walk away I couldn’t help but wonder if he wasn’t such a nice guy what he might have achieved given a slightly different set if circumstances. Prospective employers will note that Avram Grant is a man steadfastly convinced of his abilities to deliver success as a manager. He firmly believes that if he had been given another season at Chelsea he would have won the Premier League as a bare minimum. At the end of the day who, apart from Roman Abramovich, and a few dissenting voices, would disagree? It doesn’t matter now. Avram Grant’s currency as a manager will be determined soon enough by the calibre of the club he stewards next, and the results he achieves … nothing more and nothing less.

Meanwhile, back at the Bridge, a new dawn beckons. King Avram is dead, long live the King Phil … well let’s hope so for all our sakes.

Let’s all do the samba!

Up the Chels!

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GREAT read, thank you for sharing

I definitely dont hate the man and he did the best in the situation he was put in. He wasnt what we needed and we made the right decision letting him go, but its no knock on him personally. I wish Avram the best

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With the introductions out of the way, we enquired after Mr Grant’s welfare, sympathising with him over the roughshod manner in which he had been given his P45. Avram explained that whilst he was disappointed, he hadnt been surprised having seen what had happened to his predecessor Jose Mourinho. He used the analogy of a man walking into a casino and winning with his first couple of spins on the roulette wheel thereby creating an expectation of continued success to exemplify the origins of Mr Abramovich’s ongoing impatience with his managers.

Nice read and it's this bit that scares me the most about Roman and makes me fear for Scolari and in fact any future manager who takes up the Chelsea position if that's how Roman looks at things.

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