Since taking over the reins from the most successful manager in Chelsea’s history, Avram Grant has presided over a lame capitulation to Manchester United, a comfortable spanking of Championship strugglers Hull, and a disjointed scoreless draw against Fulham. Surely, it’s time for him to pack his suitcase and be off?
Yes, I have no doubt that the chunky tattooed gentleman pictured haranguing Roman Abramovich in the crowd on Saturday’s game would take that view. As an aside, I can also imagine the glee with which the photographers picked out our inked Goliath as he spewed bile at the club’s owner. Roman didn’t look too fazed, but I guess the comfort of being surrounded by ex-KGB minders will do that to you.
If today’s reports are to be believed, a series of players have been taken aside for one-to-one conversations with Messrs Kenyon and Buck, and had the situation explained to them. Avram is here to stay, at least for the time being. You may be unimpressed by his demeanour. You might think the training regimen outdated. You may sneer at his choice of loafer. But the manager has been chosen, and we are going to give him the time to prove us right (or otherwise).
On the one hand, there are things to admire about this. How often, over the last 10 years, have we as fans and commentators thrown up our arms in despair at the brevity of the modern manager’s tenure? Think back – it wasn’t very long ago – to Ian Dowie’s brief and ill-fated tenure at Charlton. Or indeed his successor Les Reed, swiftly replaced by Alan Pardew, who himself had been given only a matter of games at West Ham by Icelandic owner Eggert Magnusson. Santini was hustled out of the door at White Hart Lane after a matter of months, to be replaced by a genial Dutchman whose own job now seems to be in jeopardy, despite being only a dodgy pasta dish short of a Champions League spot a couple of years ago. Capello joined Vicente del Bosque in the rogue’s gallery of Real Madrid managers sacked for daring to win the Primera Liga. Different reasons, of course: the studious del Bosque had failed to bring the grandest prize of all, the Champions’ League, to the trophy cabinet of the borderline sociopath president Perez, while Capello ended los merengues’ hunt for the title, but in too boring a way for Ramon Calderon. Going back a bit further, remember Stuart Gray at Southampton? As for Torquay and Leroy Rosenior, the less said the better.
Should we, as Chelsea fans, be encouraged by the strength of the owner’s convictions? Are the circumstances different? Well, this all depends on whose point of view you believe. I’ll come back to that in a minute, because in my mind that uncertainty encapsulates the problems that are besetting this club. If Grant is here to rubber stamp a footballing ethic and strategic vision that comes directly from the owner, then we are right to be concerned. After all, what would that say about Roman himself? That he displays the very worst attributes of a control freak, and needs the false reassurance of paid yes-men? That he believes, after a footballing epiphany at Old Trafford and 4 years of club ownership, that he has absorbed enough of the game to choose the team himself? For me, that’s more than a concern: that’s genuinely frightening.
But if that’s not the case – if Roman Abramovich and Peter Kenyon have decided, after due reflection, that club debutante Avram Grant is the right man to lead their team into its position as Greatest Club in the World(TM) – then he is entitled to a little respect from the fans. Let’s leave aside the notion that he is being subjected to anti-Semitic abuse from a minority of cretins in the crowd and via mail. After all, any human being in the developed world could be forgiven for expecting a little basic courtesy. If Manchester United were denied the services of Rooney, Ronaldo, Carrick and Giggs, it might leave them a little shaken and disjointed. Much like Chelsea look without the services of Drogba, Lampard, Essien and a newly-resurgent Wright-Phillips.
But the real problem is not the missing players, or the indifferent (or not) coaching, or the rumours of dressing room unrest, or John Terry’s fractured cheekbone. The real problem is this: we don’t know what’s going on. And only now do Chelsea fans begin to understand the price they paid when Ken Bates made his packet and ducked out. Chelsea is wholly owned by a figure whose motives become more arcane and inscrutable the longer he remains in charge. Far from getting to know this man, he seems every bit the enigma to us now that he was when he arrived. And, of course, how can we complain? His investment has been monstrous, his beneficence unprecedented. And if he chooses to say absolutely nothing to the fans, as will surely be the case, then we’ll just have to continue to lump it. They say that Roman has been confused by the outpouring of emotion following Mourinho’s departure. How could this be the case? Roman bought the players. Roman invested a mind-bubbling amount of money in state-of-the-art facilities at Cobham. Roman freed us from debt. Why do we not love him with the same fervour that we loved Mourinho?
The answer, Roman, is simple. We knew Jose. We don’t know you. We’ve never heard you speak. You’ve never sat down and explained what you want and where it’s all going. Yes yes, that’s what Peter Kenyon is for. But, in a time of uncertainty, press announcements from the chief executive ring hollow. If you want to be appreciated and understood, deign to explain yourself to the people that sit in the stands: people like that large chap with the belly tattoo. You were only a couple of seats away from him, but it might as well have been a million miles.