Following the shock 1-0 defeat to Barnsley back in March, I wrote a piece on this fine site and addressed it directly to Avram Grant. It was sarcastic, sardonic and more than derisory, and, written at 3am the night of the FA Cup tie, perfectly summed up my mood at the time. It was a knee-jerk reaction, a petulant reply to the day’s events, quite simply, it was a mock apology to Mr Grant, and I wasn’t sorry in the slightest.
But so often after given time to reflect and of course, with the benefit of hindsight, opinions can be drastically different. Now, over three months on, Grant has been dismissed after a trophy less season and a catalogue of near-misses. However, now my apology is sincere.
When the seemingly under-experienced Israeli took the helm, the feeling among the majority of Chelsea fans was mutual. Complete shock was followed by utter bemusement, accompanied by a sense of anger. Then one overwhelming question: Why?
But in the back of our minds, even after Grant had signed a bumper four-year contract (aren’t they all bumper contracts with Chelsea nowadays?) didn’t we all know that he’d be gone by the end of the season?
Perhaps that’s why the insults and jibes rained in from fans, the media, and almost everyone involved with the club. Grant dubbed himself “normal”, and this was pounced upon. He didn’t dress or look like the stylish Jose Mourinho and this was pointed out too. Indeed, he was dubbed ‘Toad’ after the character from ‘Wind in the Willows’. He’s Jewish, let’s toss that into the mix as well!
“It’s alright, he’ll be gone soon.”
The Carling Cup Final defeat against Spurs, the 4-4 draw with the same opponents and the last-gasp win over Newcastle at Stamford Bridge are just some examples of the hostile atmosphere Grant faced, during the games and especially after the action on the pitch. A prime case in point came against Arsenal at home.
With his side trailing 1-0, he made some controversial substitutions which were met by boos from the Blues faithful, along with the infamous chant of, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” It appeared as though he was throwing it all away; that incredible home record, valuable Premier League points, and of course, his tenure at Chelsea.
But in the midst of those snarled faces, angry gestures and unwelcoming songs, stood a man. The butt of all the jokes, the target of all the hatred, but a man nonetheless. A man who was given a chance, a man who took that chance because he believed he could make a difference, and ultimately, a man who is now remembered for all the wrong reasons.
Which brings me back to the aforementioned apology. Because every time things didn’t go our way, we made Grant know about it. Chants rained out on several occasions, pleading with Roman Abramovich to bring back ‘The Special One’, every tactical decision was derided, every opportunity to mock and criticise the manager was grasped eagerly with both hands.
In this media-driven world, where hyperbole rules all, sometimes people forget that everyone in football is human. Players are dubbed ‘heroes’, games are ‘wars’, and managers indulge in ‘tactical battles.’ It’s like another planet.
But hearing stories of Grant dining with his head in his hands in near-solitary confinement after the Champions League Final defeat, and being shunted to the back of the plane flying the club back from Moscow like a leper, and remembering how he looked when the abuse was raining down against Arsenal, makes me feel sorry for him, and although we may feel like we’ve been through a lot this campaign, put yourself in his shoes.
People may say he shouldn’t have taken the job, but wouldn’t you have done the same thing? People will say he made errors, and in my eyes he did. But does that justify the strife (for want of a better word) he has had to tolerate?
In a tabloid newspaper on Sunday morning, Grant was quoted as saying that he was, “Completely betrayed,” by the club. They will of course, never apologise to how he has been treated despite seeing him lead Chelsea to their first ever European Cup Final.
But I would like to genuinely and frankly say sorry to Mr Grant, and wish him luck in his future career. That is, if his career has not already been assassinated by eight months in charge of Chelsea Football Club.