The earth did not move on Sunday, but Avram Grant slept a little easier that night. The sight of the man who’s patented the hangdog expression donning a faint but clear smile at the post-match circuit must be a welcome relief to everyone at Stamford Bridge. From a close shave with self-combustion to self-satisfaction in ninety minutes, Grant could be forgiven for thinking every monkey has scampered off his hunched back. Since his banishment to the doghouse, Easter Sunday was the day he possibly began to feel that a dead chicken may yet still get the chance to eat some sweet corn. Sure, he must have resurrected something in the minds of not a few doubting Thomases with that defeat of Arsenal.
Okay, it’s just one game, but it is one game and one stone that killed several scary birds. With this victory, Grant answered some of our questions – not all, but some big ones. We said he couldn’t win the big games; he has now won against a title-chasing Arsenal side at the Bridge and is still keeping our undefeated home record going. We said he couldn’t make substitutions that turn games; he did with the introduction of Nicolas Anelka and Juliano Belletti. Okay, the goals were scored by the Arsenal-defying Didier Drogba who put in another Man of the Match performance and who, if reports are to be believed, cannot exactly be tagged a great fan of Grant the manager. But even that shouldn’t take away much from Grant’s moment.
Since cynicism rightfully installed itself in the minds of most fans with his appointment as manager, every kind of reason has been given for our apparently surprising good performances, but none has ever been adduced to Grant’s managerial ability. Popular wisdom has been that the team perform well when they do in spite of the man, not because of him. On the other hand, the gaping holes in his CV and his questionable personality have been assiduously and overwhelmingly championed as causes of our failures. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised to hear people say this is a case of Drogba raising his game to prove he’s earned his right to criticize the coach or that this is the result of him kicking up Chelsea’s backsides after a series of lacklustre displays and substitutions that had him moaning at the bench more than most. Perhaps we’ll still hear some claim that this is simply underlying his currency to summer suitors, having reportedly made up his mind to leave Chelsea as part of the messy post-Mourinho fallout or, in relation to the whole, it could yet be interpreted as the old Mourinho team just playing from memory and desperately adopting a self-help approach to redeem their reputation, having realized that Grant cannot lift them. Whatever the truth though, one thing I know is that we can’t have it both ways. If Grant is not good enough when we’re losing the big games or embarrassingly drawing easily winnable ones, he must be good enough if we suddenly begin winning the big ones, like the one against Arsenal at the Bridge. Yes, this is just one big game and a few more are due to come, but it’s only fair that the man be given credit for a good Chelsea performance as we give him stick for bad ones.
Indeed, the importance of this win cannot be over-emphasized. Apart from going a long way to exorcize the ghost of Mourinho and his uncanny ability to deliver in most big games (as opposed to the timid Grant), something stirred in the heart of all true Chelsea fans on Sunday at the final whistle. Of course, no one sang Grant’s praises to high heavens, but some of us who fear we’re back to the days of being glorious losers are actually beginning to think the unthinkable, which is that we may actually stumble upon some silverware this season after all! The fact that we are second in the league, five points behind Manchester United and with no team in-between us means we have been put in a great position to chase them down the finishing line. This victory underlines our resilience and may just have reminded the rest of the Premier League why they used to fear us. The multiplier effect of such confident display in our preparation for the continuation of our Champions League campaign cannot be overlooked as well.
So here’s the news – some of us in great doubt are about to start believing again, albeit on the strength of one game. However, this is one huge game! I personally have no qualms hosting a feast of freshly-baked humble pies if we win either of the two trophies now still available. Whatever happens with Grant, whether he stays or goes, is of lesser importance to me than us winning silverware; but if we win it, I’d be ready to wave him goodbye with grudging respect or look forward to his further reign with less trepidation. Yes, if winning any silverware this season will solidify the position of the unpopular Grant, I can live with that and even learn to love him! But if from this point, we still go on to end the season empty-handed, Roman Abramovich must be forced to deliver his head on a platter. It’s a harsh world at Chelsea nowadays and I suppose the Czar of Stamford Bridge will have it no other way. But, for today, Grant must be granted his due. In fact, I think at this stage, he’s earned the right to be supported till the end of the season by every true Blue. Those supporters openly ridiculing him must now back off. He and the team need us solidly behind them to catch Manchester United and get our trophy back. They need us with them to push farther than before in Europe. We must decide what we want and what price to pay and right now I’d think easing off on Grant in exchange for some silverware (or the real possibility of it) is small price to pay for the rest of the season. It’s not yet Avramania up my alley, but stranger things have happened in football.