The Mysterious Avram Grant
He wins and he’s slated. He loses and he’s feted. I don’t get Avram Grant.
It all began when his buddy decided to give him a job. Fortunately for Avram, that buddy was a billionaire Russian oligarch with a football club to spare. The media were not amused:
“Make one thing clear: there is nothing in Grant’s professional CV that qualifies him for a job as intricate and demanding as this. He has never managed in a leading European league, never managed a team outside Israel or beyond the most basic qualifying rounds of the Champions League or European Cup (he once reached the first round of the old tournament before being beaten by FC Bruges, and was embarrassingly thrown out at the second qualifying stage during his sole Champions League campaign for fielding a suspended player against FC Haka, of Finland).”
[Martin Samuel, Times]
So it’s fair to say there were a few sceptics out there. However, things didn’t exactly come to a head because – and here’s the thing – Avram kept winning football matches. Sure, he lost his opening game to Manchester United with the players still pining for their fallen leader Jose Mourinho. But there followed a 16 match unbeaten run before they lost 1-0 at the Emirates … and promptly went another 16 without defeat.
By the time of the extra-time League Cup Final defeat at the hands of Spurs, it was clear that it wasn’t only the Chelsea players and fans that were pining for Mourinho. The British media had a plethora of theories – the players were picking the team, Grant couldn’t win the big games etc.
Things appeared to come to a head in March with Chelsea one goal down to Arsenal in front of their own fans. Grant brought on Belletti and Anelka in a double substitution to replace Ballack and Makelele. The crowd howled their derision and chants of ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ briefly rang out around Stamford Bridge. Within 12 minutes the game had been turned on its head and Chelsea went on to win the match.
The following month against Manchester United, the theory that Grant loses the big games was surely dispelled for good when the champions were also defeated. It was not quite enough to win the title but Avram Grant’s Premiership record for Chelsea reads as follows:
W 22 D 8 L 2 (Avram Grant’s 32 Premiership games in charge of Chelsea)
W 18 D 12 L 2 (Jose Mourinho’s last 32 Premiership games in charge of Chelsea)
Sadly for Grant, a John Terry slip in the Champions League Final shoot-out was to end his hopes of lifting Europe’s greatest prize. One kick away from glory, he was sacked three days later.
I had just about got my head round the notion that Avram Grant was a mumbling buffoon who deserved little credit for Chelsea’s best ever Champions League run. And then he went and took over at Portsmouth Football Club.
Make no mistake about it, things were bleak when Grant took over at Pompey. In fact, that is something of an understatement. The club was flat broke, grossly mismanaged by god knows who and had just 7 points from their first 13 games. Before long, however, a strange thing was happening – Avram Grant was becoming loved:
“Perhaps the only really lovable thing about Portsmouth is Avram Grant, often criticised at Chelsea for his glum, sardonic, mooching demeanour, even at times when his glum, sardonic, mooching demeanour was by far the best thing about Chelsea. In adversity he has developed a lovely, shrugging excitability, a conviction that something or other means something and that’s the real, you know, point here.”
[Barney Ronay, Guardian]
In truth, any positive influence Grant wielded on the pitch was negligible at best:
W 2 D 1 L 10 (2009-10 under Paul Hart)
W 5 D 6 L 14 (2009-10 under Avram Grant)
Of course, it was the FA Cup run that brought about Grant’s metamorphosis in the eyes of the media:
“Grant is finally starting to earn the respect he deserved all along … the Israeli has raged against the dying of the light. Relegation may be a certainty, but under Grant Portsmouth will exit the top flight with their self-respect intact and with the possibility of winning a second FA Cup in three years. That is quite some feat.”
[Rob Kelly, Telegraph]
And so, with a replay win over Coventry and three further FA Cup victories, Grant was able to achieve the respect that the press had denied him when leading Chelsea to the brink of Champions League glory.
Only time will tell how Avram Grant fares at West Ham United. I’ll wager one thing though – the perception won’t necessarily match the reality.
I still don’t get Avram Grant.