CFCnet caught up with one of Israel’s leading football writers, Shaul Adar, who also covers Chelsea for two of the UK’s leading national broadsheets. We first met Shaul in July 2007 and his premonitions about the current season were, in hindsight, eerily correct. Seven months later, in a bar in Clerkenwell, we collared the Israeli hack to tell us what he thinks now….
CFCnet: What does Israel think of Avram now?
Shaul: When Avram Grant first got the job, there was a complete split in Israel. One half thought that his appointment to become manager of Chelsea was a stunning achievement for Israel, Israeli football and the Jewish people at large. The other half thought he had dazzled Abramovich into giving him a job he scarcely deserved and were very surprised.
I told you in the summer that people underestimate Grant at their peril. He is a capable and bright man, very politically savvy with a strong belief in his own abilities. I thought he’d do well, but even I’m surprised at just how well he’s doing. I also thought he’d lose some of the players but it seems Chelsea is a happy ship and not one player has said definitively “I’m leaving”. Grant’s done well.
Grant was worried when he took over, simply because of the treacherous circumstances surrounding his appointment and how shocked the players were over Mourinho’s dismissal. His achievement at steadying the ship, turning it round and moving it forward in such circumstances is admirable.
He’s also brought in the right people and Henk Ten Cate is an excellent foil to Grant’s management.
CFCnet: What do you think of Ten Cate?
Shaul: His reputation for attacking football at Ajax and Barcelona was excellent but in the long term I feel that Ten Cate’s attacking style might start to cause friction with Grant’s conservative, Mourinho-style, football. But, if results are good, there will not be too many problems.
Grant favours cautious controlled football and he’s renowned in Israel for this. He’s like a clone of Mourinho in that respect.
CFCnet: Has Chelsea’s profile risen in Israel?
Shaul: Definitely. Nearly all Chelsea games are now shown in Israel and it’s become an issue of national pride. Now most Israelis think that Grant is doing a great job yet there are a few who still can’t stomach his appointment!
Before he came to Portsmouth, after his stint as Israeli national coach, there were two Israeli teams after Grant – Hapoel Tel Aviv and Beitar Jerusalem. Both sets of fans were adamant they didn’t want him. He wasn’t liked, not least because the football under his tenure as Israeli national coach was very, very boring and hard to watch. You must remember that Hapoel Tel Aviv has a reputation similar to George Graham’s Arsenal so for their fans not to want Grant says it all.
CFCnet: Is Grant himself enjoying himself?
Shaul: Yes. He is far more hedonistic than he appears to be and is earning a huge amount of money. He loves the good life, loves fine restaurants, lives in a posh area of London and is having the time of his life. He is certainly letting his hair down more, and is getting freer with his behaviour. Grant is definitely getting more confident and it will become more interesting. That’s for certain.
CFCnet: What about his celebrity wife?
She’s moved to London to be with him and put her own career on hold. She is currently improving her English.
CFCnet: What do the UK press pack think of Grant?
There is surprise at how well he has done. Journalists have been far too hasty to judge him and I think the press pack is starting to give him respect and credit where it is due. Look, Arsene Wenger hardly had a glittering career before Arsenal – he managed Grampus 8 in Japan after leaving Monaco – and look what’s happened since. Likewise, many people are clamouring for Alan Shearer at Newcastle yet he has no management experience whatsoever.
I haven’t been too surprised. I said last summer that Grant isn’t the idiot that people think he is. I must say, though, that his press conferences are worse than a visit to the dentist and Mourinho is certainly missed.
CFCnet: Serves the press right. They built Jose up and then hacks like James Lawton and Matthew Norman made a career out of knocking him. It was a disgrace. James Lawton even tried to get CFCnet to promote his latest book – we said that we’d prefer to run over broken glass barefoot.
CFCnet: How’s Grant going to cope with a full squad?
Shaul: His man management is excellent but it’s a new situation for him and a new test – the biggest of his Chelsea management career. Watch this space. He’ll certainly have to ditch big stars, there’s no avoiding it.
CFCnet: What do you think about the Carling Cup Final?
Shaul: Grant doesn’t have a good record in Cup Finals in Israel. I think it will go to extra time. It’ll be close but Spurs do have a habit at imploding at the wrong times.
CFCnet: Thanks Shaul. At CFCnet towers we feel that Avram’s done a great job but he’ll need to continue doing so to build on his so-so popularity. There are still many fans angry and resentful over what happened to Jose and Grant is an easy target. We’re right behind him, we have to be because he’s our manager and Chelsea’s our Club.