That Avram Grant’s brief tenure at the Stamford Bridge managerial helm is over will have come as no surprise to anyone who follows the fortunes of Chelsea Football Club. The timing and manner of his dismissal, coming so soon after the painful Champions League final defeat in Moscow indicates that the decision had already been taken to relieve him of his duties some time before the pusillanimous Nicolas Anelka’s pathetic penalty miss consigned our dreams of true Blue glory to a rain-sodden watery grave.The final nail in the lugubrious though eminently likeable Israelis coffin may well have been hammered into place during the small hours of last Thursday morning, but I strongly suspect that Mr Grant was a dead man walking long before the season ended.
The writing was metaphorically written on the white-washed Wembley walls back in February following his incapacitating Carling Cup Final defeat at the hands of Rottenham Dropspur. On that fateful day, Avram Grant’s lack of top-flight managerial experience was brutally exposed. Success is determined by a combination of team selection, strategy, tactics and ultimately player motivation and loyalty. Against Sp*rs, Mr Grant was found wanting in each and every area and whilst he was undeserving of the majority of loathsome appellations that came his way, the savage media criticism of his shortcomings would not have been lost in translation as far as Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was concerned.
Mr Abramovich it was who had brought his friend Mr Grant to Chelsea Football Club, initially as ‘director of football’, and Mr Abramovich it was who had appointed him manager after controversially dispensing with the services of the iconic Jose Mourinho with whom, despite everything, he has remained in regular contact. Indeed in the immediate aftermath of the Wembley debacle, Roman presented Jose with a £2 million Ferrari, customised especially for the legendary Portugeezer who had previously indicated to his old employer that the four seater 612 Scaglietti, one of just 60 produced to commemorate Ferrari’s 60th anniversary, would be his preferred choice of vehicular conveyance if he could have any car in the world.
Was the timing of this lavish gift pure coincidence, or was there more to it? Maybe Roman Abramovich was slowly but surely realising that his good friend Avram Grant wasn’t quite up to the task of bolstering the contents of the Stamford Bridge trophy cabinet, something that Jose Mourinho had accomplished with spectacular aplomb.
If Roman was keeping Jose sweet, he certainly knew how to go about it. It’s interesting that Mourinho elected to remain unemployed for the balance of the season and he has been uncharacteristically tightlipped for the past few months, only now breaking silence to voice his opinions on matters at Stamford Bridge.
‘I am very sad about what happened,’ said the Special One, speaking after the Moscow defeat to Manchester United. ‘In the last two years this team lost a Champions League final and a Champions League semi-final on penalties. The supporters deserve more, Roman and the board deserve more, top people like [Frank] Lampard, [Michael] Essien, [Claude] Makelele, Ashley [Cole], Didier [Drogba], [Ricardo] Carvalho, [and coaches] Steve Clarke, Mick McGiven and some others deserve happiness. I still think of them as my boys. Yes, I was sad. Yes, I felt deeply that it was not fair. But I believe that after an empty season new success will come to Chelsea. And I will always be a Chelsea supporter.’
Jose Mourinho is allegedly bound for Italy, the San Siro and Internationale but nothing is yet confirmed. You can get odds on as many as ten managers taking over the Stamford Bridge hot-seat, the favourites being former Barçelona coach Frank Rijkaard, Guus Hiddink and Sven-Goran Eriksson; the latter, if you believe what you read in the papers, likely to be replaced as Manchester City boss by Avram Grant!
Many Blues supporters, myself included, would love to see Chelsea stewarded by a man with a true Blue heritage. Blackburn manager, Mark Hughes, would be a hugely popular choice as would the pairing of Gianfranco Zola and Pierluigi Casiraghi. What Chelsea Football Club needs more than anything right now is stability. Another short term appointment is out of the question. Mr Abramovich will have looked at the success Manchester United have achieved under Sir Alec Ferguson and rapidly realised that a footballing dynasty can only be built up over a period of time. Continuity is the key and the football has to come first.
So what about Jose Mourinho then? Could he really return to Stamford Bridge? Why not? This is the Chelsea Football Club soap opera after-all. Glorious unpredictability and all that malarkey. Seriously though, if Jose were to return, would we get a humbler version of the self-styled Special One? A new man who lets his team do the talking for him, a man who never again would openly ridicule and criticise lesser mortals, with the exception perhaps of Rafa Benitez because that’s plainly funny?
Don’t be silly. Jose is Jose. He will never change. When asked if Chelsea’s campaign had been as good as Avram Grant had claimed, Mourinho said, ‘that depends on your philosophy of leadership. In my philosophy it was a very bad one because in football “almost” means defeat and Chelsea almost won the Carling Cup, almost won the Champions League, and almost won the Premier League. Almost is nothing. After two titles per season for the last three years there were zero titles this season, which in my philosophy means a really bad season. Maybe in the philosophy of a loser this was a great season, which I respect.’
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t missed the latter day Machiavelli that is Mourinho, and I would be lying doubly if I disagreed with his erudite summation of Chelsea’s season, but would the prodigal son returning to Stamford Bridge be the long term fix that all genuine Blues fans seek? I suspect not.
I am 100% convinced that Roman Abramovich wants the best for Chelsea Football Club, and that he is in it for the long haul. Patience is the key, though a review of the past five years of his ownership might suggest that this is not a virtue that comes easily to the billionaire from nowhere. And why should it? You don’t make that sort of money sitting idly on your thumbs waiting for something to happen. Maybe now though Mr Abramovich will have learned that sometimes a change is not as good as a rest and that in football the short term gain can lead to a lot of pain without the gain being fully realised.
Were Mourinho to return, the nucleus of his old team could be retained and we could expect the Blues to win more silverware next season. Great … until the next cataclysmic battle of egos with Mr Abramovich. Of the continental coaches being touted as possible replacements for Avram Grant, Guus Hiddink is a man with a proven pedigree and a calm persona; a man who would command the respect of the players and the fans, he would be my choice.
Fundamentally though, speaking as a supporter of Chelsea Football Club and everything that represents, I am drawn to the solution presented by the appointment of someone like Mark Hughes or Franco Zola. Someone for whom managing the Club would mean a lot more than the multi-million pound salary that goes with the job.
It’s going to be an interesting summer.
See you next season!
Mark Worrall is the author of cult terrace classics Over land and Sea and Blue Murder … Chelsea till I die. His new book One Man Went to Mow is out now. All titles are available to buy with a discount of 30% and free UK postage at http://www.overlandandsea.net/