Avram Grant: The Embarrassment Factor

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In life, it sometimes happens that those we love deeply embarrass us in ways that we find absolutely impossible to defend their actions. But while in almost every other aspect of life you can make the conscious decision to withdraw your love or affection (depending on the nature of the slight), in football it’s not quite that easy. It is actually wired into the DNA of every true fan to have that unrestrained tendency to rise above all sorts of human-induced disappointment in support of their beloved football club. Yet, supporting your beloved club and supporting idiotic policies by those in charge of running your beloved club are two different things. Any discerning fan knows that in spite of the fact that Roman Abramovich owns Chelsea, he does not own their soul. In other words, paying for Chelsea does not mean he’s bought your independence of thought or power of good judgement.

Indeed, for those who eternally want us to worship him for ‘saving’ Chelsea, I say I’m as grateful to him as I am to my local pub landlord for making available to me my favourite brew. The day he serves me stale beer or appoints some not-so-friendly bartender to serve me, I’ll let him know what I think without reservation. And while I can take my beer-buying custom elsewhere, in Chelsea’s case, no matter how disgruntled I am as a customer, I remain loyal, because it’s actually more than business for me: it’s my life colours. It’s therefore a privilege that he’s allowed to buy into it. He may be a billionaire, but wealth and wisdom do not always walk in tandem. Yes, rich owners of clubs make mistakes and when they do, true fans should let them know; not hush up everyone for fear of annoying Croesus so much as to make him sulk or bolt away with his bag of precious gold. Well, Chelsea and the fans have been here long before Abramovich, Frank Arnesen, Peter Kenyon, Bruce Buck and José Mourinho and we’ll still be here when they’re long gone. But, history will only vindicate those who stood for truth and reason when it matters; it will not vindicate poodles.

People who’ve read my writings on the issue of Mourinho’s exit would know that from the very moment the news came out, I’ve been one of the very first to call for calm, including asking that Abramovich and those who run the affairs of our club be given the benefit of doubt. Yes, Mourinho was and still is well loved by the fans, but I do understand that if he couldn’t get on with Abramovich, there was little chance he’d last. Of course, the divorce has been expected for sometime, but having resumed the new season with the man in charge and with him and everyone else at the helm singing a new hymn of unity, how can anyone justify a divorce in mid-September when we’re still celebrating the breakout of the much-needed peace? How can we justify this when we know that despite the injury problems of last season, the boardroom troubles played their part in costing us an extra cup or two? Or didn’t we all learn our lessons from last season? Nonetheless, it’s happened. Whatever the merits or otherwise of the divorce, who’s right or who’s wrong, as Chelsea, we simply have to move on. And right now, for me, that is where the problem is. How do you move on from an embarrassment when the whole process of moving on is an extended embarrassment in itself?

Naturally, after deliberately inducing such a huge shock on the Chelsea system, the last people that should act unprepared are those who’ve foisted it on the rest of us. Abramovich and his claque of advisers and board members have been preparing for this eventuality for several months. Yet, every post-Mourinho action they’ve taken has made us more into a laughing stock. The insult is not that they appointed Avram Grant (a man obviously brought in by Abramovich to undermine Mourinho); the insult is to tell us and the world that it is a permanent appointment and that this represents progress for Chelsea. Yet, when we place this whole scheme in the context of the man not having the requisite qualifications to manage at the Premier League level, you begin to wonder why Abramovich spent all this time parachuting him from Israel, ‘parking’ him at Portsmouth, before finally planting him on Mourinho’s bench. Why didn’t they spend all this conspiratorial time getting his qualifications in place since everyone seemed to have known what the game is?

Again, Buck and Kenyon insist they’ve spent a great deal of time talking to Grant and assessing him before his permanent appointment. So, what were they talking about that never bordered on his qualifications for the job of managing Chelsea in the Premier League? In fact, Chelsea are not even denying that he doesn’t have the qualifications, but are merely restating that he has a 12-week period of grace to get these. Are we so desperate to give Grant this job when he is evidently not qualified to the standard required by the Premier League and League Managers Association? Are we happy to see every Tom, Dick and Harry derogatorily and condescendingly discuss our manager’s lack of qualifications to the extent that Howard Wilkinson reckons what he has is only good enough to manage in the Championship? Are we now that reduced in football circles that we need the favours of others to allow our unqualified manager to lead world-domination-chasing Chelsea?

The point is whether this is a temporary or permanent appointment is not the issue The appointment of Grant to the managerial position for any tenure should have been avoided at all cost following what had happened. He was already a disruptive influence in the dressing room. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink testified that while he was there training at the beginning of the season, he noticed that everyone was watching their back. He needed not tell us who they were wary of since we all know that Grant was the new man who came into the erstwhile happy dressing room. Some were already calling him Abramovich’s Mossad agent, especially with his penchant for pulling players aside and asking them questionable questions and trying to plant ideas in their heads. What was quite obvious was that he was not liked and as soon as Mourinho’s exit was announced, most suspected him immediately as playing a role. So, to appoint such a figure to lead the club in the name of progress is truly a joke.

Of course, they tried to pander to Chelsea fans by leaving Steve Clarke as Grant’s assistant; but what they should have done, if Mourinho’s exit was truly in the interest of the club, was to appoint Clarke in a caretaker capacity while they search for the right candidate (many of whom are out there, some even jobless at the moment) to take over permanently. While most Chelsea fans would still possibly have protested Mourinho’s departure, I doubt any would have gone against Clarke’s appointment. That would have ensured minimum fuss from the fans; minimum fuss from the players and less disruption of our season (as Clarke had been Mourinho’s right-hand man and would have easily gained the players’ trust to continue with the campaign as originally planned and with the same mental commitment). Appointing Grant is an unnecessary and expensive joke. Even his coaching ideas are reportedly outdated.

Anyone who needs to know how low we have fallen only needs to look at our outing at Old Trafford. I’m not talking about the match or the result, because Mike Dean has ensured that discussions about the game should only be about his abject incompetence. I’m talking about Messrs Abramovich, Kenyon and Grant walking into an opposition ground and being booed for the first time by a combination of opposition and Chelsea supporters. Mourinho’s name and banners ruled the waves as the travelling fans showed with songs and gestures what they think of the club’s decision to let the most successful and most charismatic manager in our history go at a time we stood another chance to challenge for more honours with him.

The worst part of the show was Grant’s post-match interview. Watching him wilt under the spotlight throughout the game was pathetic enough. In fact, watching him after the match roaming on, shell-shocked, apparently forgetting the protocol of having to shake hands with the opposing manager (yes, Sir Alex Ferguson actually walked a considerable distance to catch up with him to shake his hands) I knew he was in over his head. But by the time of a post-match interview, you’d think he’d have collected himself and be prepared for what follows. Okay, he does not have Mourinho’s media savvy, he does not have his charisma, but even now I’m beginning to doubt his intelligence as well. Asked whether he has the support of the dressing room in the post-match interview, he responded that he doesn’t know. How could he be saying that after Kenyon and Buck had spent the major part of the press conference unveiling him as manager two days earlier stridently telling us that everyone in the dressing room supports Grant?

While some may think his response is honest, it calls to question the decision to put him there, because it reveals that he’s not one capable of thinking on his feet. Being a bumbling presence in front of television cameras isn’t another burden we need of a Chelsea manager at this stage of our history. Whether we like it or not, he represents us. And every fan must ask himself or herself whether someone hanging on to a job he isn’t qualified for simply because he’s kinsman and friend of the boss deserves to be the totem or on-field leader of the club he or she loves. Meanwhile, to rub salt into the would, elsewhere in that city of Manchester, old Sven-Goran Eriksson was having the time of his life denying “a new link” to the Chelsea job. Who’d now blame Martin Samuel for his new crusade to ‘confirm’ that Chelsea are really a small club pretending to be big?

For those Chelsea fans who think we should shut up and lump it because there’s nothing we can do, I say yes, we will ultimately. But one thing is clear – none of us (including them) can now go out there in the comity of fans to convincingly defend Abramovich or Grant before true football followers or before discerning Chelsea fans. In fact, when Buck, with a straight face, began to say Grant did indeed ask for a guarantee of non-interference from Abramovich and got it, I almost puked. Now, why would Grant be asking for such a guarantee if it was there in the first place and if it was not an issue before now? The wind is blowing and everyone, Chelsea or not, is clearly seeing the chicken’s rump. The Emperor has lost his clothes and all we can do is sigh powerlessly until he gets back to his senses. Before then, we can only hope and pray, supporting our beloved team through thick and thin, showing the indomitable Chelsea spirit and keeping it blue as always. But anyone who wants to go worship Abramovich’s folly can do so. It’s a free world.