Throughout this season, particularly in the latter half, I’ve found myself having to defend my stance on Avram Grant. I repeatedly hear that he is responsible for us still being in both the Champions League and the title race – and I just don’t buy it. While I accept we are in a much better position than I had expected us to be under his ‘management’, he had a squad of talented professionals at his disposal that in all fairness even my mother could get a mediocre performance out of – and that’s exactly what he’s done. Mr Average, has got them playing average football – and even that flatters some of our performances this season. I wholeheartedly admit I’ve been against him from the start. From the moment Kenyon and Buck shockingly confirmed that no, they hadn’t just dragged this sour faced vagrant off the streets, this was actually the new Chelsea manager, my mind was made up. We’d just lost the self assured, feisty, charismatic – and not too displeasing on the eye – Mourinho and they planned to replace him with this morose, mumbling skulker, with a face only his mother could love. Were they serious?!!
“Ahhh”, but I’m told “you can’t use his looks/personality as a reason not to manage Chelsea”. Why on earth not? Isn’t image a big part of business? Isn’t it all about ‘selling yourself’? What about the image Grant projects? Well let’s look at what the press has to say:
“With his sunken eyes and dour demeanour, the caricature of Grant as the accidental Chelsea manager is one which has haunted him ever since” says The Sun.
“A lack of public appeal has cost Avram Grant” says The Guardian. “His less than churchillian rhetoric and famously hangdog demeanour does nothing to dispel the mood of gloom”.
Now whilst those comments in themselves might not fully explain why it is that I’ve cringed through every press conference or post match interview this season, The Mail’s take on it captures it perfectly. Taking the perspective of Abramovich’s vast investment to sell Chelsea as a brand, whilst creating an image of success, glamour and entertainment, The Mail sniggers:
“And then Chelsea wheel out Avram Grant. The Chelsea manager bristles at the portrayal of him as dour and taciturn, and those who know the man profess to like him. But although obviously bright, he has what a mother would describe as ‘an unfortunate way about him’. Sporting a face like John Prescott opening an empty fridge, the ambitious London club are being led by a character pursuing an entirely different interpretation of the phrase ‘turning the world blue”.
Grant had previously asked a PR man to organise a dinner with sports writers in an apparent effort to win them over with his ‘real’ personality, however, as the press rightly point out, this is a futile exercise given the image the rest of the world sees. With his usual press conferences said to sound like “a Book of Condolence being read aloud by a sedated undertaker who secretly hated the deceased”, he did little to improve this image following the Everton game either, with the waiting press “struggling to find the stand-up comedian within” as he sat glumly refusing to act his age. Kevin and Perry eat your hearts out.
Some might say it’s not Grant’s fault he happened to follow the exuberance of Mourinho (although to be fair, this was internal promotion in the extreme) and certainly there’s some of his predecessor’s traits that aren’t as sorely missed as the man himself, but a little animation wouldn’t go amiss. Of course we can’t actually know what his motivational skills consist of behind the scenes, but there’s little or no evidence of any in public. And his impersonation of Sammy the Seal doesn’t qualify. But whatever it is Grant actually does, clearly the players are unhappy and uninspired. Rumours of in-house arguments seemingly backed up by stories of the impending mass exodus in the summer. As if that’s not confirmation enough, Ben Haim’s recent outburst clearly voicing what half his team mates must be thinking anyway. Add to that what looks to be like Steve Clark’s imminent departure and clearly, the effects of having an under-qualified and over-promoted manager at the club are taking their toll.
Obviously Grant is hardly over the moon himself (not that we’d be able to tell the difference anyway) and as well as his recent tantrum with the media, he’s expressed his “disappointment” at the boos following recent performances. Grant suggests fans need to “respect the football we played”, although apparently hasn’t sussed that this works both ways. Shouldn’t the fans be respected by being given something resembling football to watch in the first place? Clearly he doesn’t think so given the tactics he employs (and I use the term ‘tactics’ loosely here). Whereas games like Barnsley, Wigan and the Carling Cup final show not only his incompetence at selecting the right team but also what instructions to give them once they’re out there, the recent victory over Arsenal highlights his inability to recognise when (even if it’s a fluke) he’s managed to get things right. Instead, he persists in ineffective formations, confusing team selections and seriously WTF? substitutions.
So I’ll continue to defend my opinion that Grant simply isn’t up to the job of ‘taking Chelsea to the next level’. I’ll concede that the players have done ‘ok’ this season in spite of the manager and if Roman thinks ‘ok’ is good value for money then I guess that’s his prerogative. But in terms of the ‘entertaining football’ he craves, it’s about as exciting as Grant’s personality and the fact than even Abramovich doesn’t put himself through the ordeal of turning up to watch it these days speaks volumes.