posted: May 1, 2008
Grant who is Israeli is the subject of my column in Maariv tomorrow.
I have asked Allan Manham who took me last year to Stamford Bridge to write about Grant from his perspective as a Chelsea fan.
Here's Allan's text. (written before last night's game)
This text wasn't published since the editors managed in the last minute to get Grant himself to write.
So there we were, having won back to back league championships, reaching two European cup semi finals and excitedly looking forward to the coming season under our charismatic Portuguese manager and heavily bankrolled by our Russian oligarch owner who had transformed our prospects with his bottomless pockets. But that sort of spending power does also bring the possibility of acting on a whim.
Pity this sad supporter having watched Chelsea for the last 42 years, logging in daily to every possible news source for the latest on his club. “Mourinho leaves Chelsea and is replaced by Avram Grant!” How could that be possible? We had all heard about the personal friendship that allegedly exists between Grant, Roman Abramovich and his football fixer, super agent Pini Zahavi. But… How could a club with aspirations to be the world’s leader, replace the most charismatic manager it has ever had, with a complete nobody? A manager without a record. A man with no identity. A man with no discernible personality. But we are told, a nice man. A son who loves his father. Since when though, does that add up to the job description for one of the most coveted (and highly paid) jobs in football?
I can’t but help but think of that marvellous Hal Ashby movie Being There, based on the Jerzy Kosinski novel and starring Peter Sellers as Chance the gardener who lives his life in the Washington D.C. house of an old man. When the man dies, Chance is put out on the street with no knowledge of the world except what he has learned from television. After a run in with a limousine, he ends up a guest of a woman and her husband Ben, an influential and wealthy but sickly businessman. Now called Chauncey Gardner, Chance becomes friend and confidante to Ben, and an unlikely political insider. His raison d’etre is that he actually is very simple minded and has nothing of import to say, but this is interpreted by those around him as deep insight. "In the garden, growth has it seasons," Chance explains. "First comes spring and summer, but then we have fall and winter. And then we get spring and summer again."
Is Grant the modern day Chauncey Gardner, with his simplistic utterances and inability to communicate being interpreted as coming from someone with real vision and insight?
Die hard Chelsea supporters like me, even though devastated at the loss of our previous idol are like supporters everywhere. We are prepared to forgive all, provided it brings the success that we crave. And when Mourinho was so unceremoniously (and expensively) given the chop a mere few games into the season, we were forced, somewhat reluctantly, to give the taciturn Grant the benefit of the doubt, provided he delivered the crown jewels that Abramovich and the whole club craved, the European Championship? His mission statement- if that is not putting the mumbled words at his early incoherent press conferences too strongly- was that he was going to do it with attacking football! OK he has been hampered by a succession of injuries to key players, but still now there is no evidence of some sort of master plan. I have lost count of the times halfway through a game when he has made a seemingly inexplicable substitution and the crowd have chanted in unison, “you don’t know what you’re doing”
And yet and yet. On Saturday we played Manchester United with just the outside chance of winning the league championship, provided we beat them and win the following last two games of the season. But it should not have come to this. The feeling is that games have been wasted and we have lost just when everything was assured. Incredibly we scored in extra time in the first half, having played some of the most attractive football that we had seen during the season. The frustration of giving away that lead to a soft goal by the usually peerless Carvalho was, offset by the award of a penalty late in the second half and the legendary luck that alledgedly follows Grant around, worked this time in our favour. We have had no luck this season, demonstrated by a string of bad injuries to key players, but true football fans will happily welcome anyone who can change that sequence.
Is that to be Grant’s true gift?
And by some miraculous chance we play Liverpool at home next Wednesday 1-1 with home advantage and therefore as favourites for the first time to go all the way through to the final in Moscow in May. All will be revealed. Is Chauncey Grant the man, despite all the reservations? Does he have some special insight that only the privileged few are able to discern? As a supporter you can only go on hoping. And if we do are we then to be saddled with one of the most unpopular managers we have ever had?