Grant on brink as Abramovich agonises over a replacement
Friday 23 May 2008
Avram Grant can expect to be told within the next 72 hours whether he will continue as Chelsea manager. The signs remain that the 53-year-old Israeli will be replaced after just eight months in charge, even though he led Chelsea to Wednesday's European Cup final, losing only on penalties, as well as to second place in the Premier League.
Grant's one chance of survival appears to be the indecision at the heart of Chelsea, right up to the club's owner Roman Abramovich, as to who should replace him. Nevertheless, a club statement is expected to be made on Grant's future by the beginning of next week.
Roberto Mancini, who has led the Italian club Internazionale to a third successive Scudetto and will aim for a league and cup double against Roma – whose own coach Luciano Spalletti also has his admirers – this weekend, has been pushing his case and is championed by some within the Chelsea hierarchy. At the same time the names of Frank Rijkaard and Guus Hiddink continue to circulate, but without any great conviction, while Michael Laudrup, who, like the other two, is well connected within the club, is available, having left Getafe, but the Dane is not regarded as experienced enough. A wild card could be Dick Advocaat, the coach of Zenit St Petersburg who, given Abramovich's liking for employing a coach who has won a European trophy, could be considered after landing the Uefa Cup against Rangers last week while the currency of Blackburn Rovers' manager, Mark Hughes, remains high.
Grant himself is understood to be worn out by the pressure of the last few months, with one source close to the manager saying last night that he needed "time on his own" to decide what he wants to do. If he is replaced, Grant will probably be given the option of returning to the job he was originally appointed to take on at Stamford Bridge – that of director of football – but is understood to favour a clean break.
Grant understandably believes that his reputation has been enhanced sufficiently by the events of this season to command a prime managerial job elsewhere, despite the lack of public support he has received from Abramovich and the club's directors.
Yesterday Grant,perhaps inadvertently, spoke of his time at Chelsea in the past tense while, again, refusing to discuss what will happen to him. "I cannot talk about the future now," he said. "I've spoken with Peter [Kenyon, Chelsea's chief executive] and others and we're just thinking about the game. I've enjoyed my time here – not all the time – but most of the time I enjoy it.
"I'm a manager who likes to create something that will be good for the future of the club. It was not easy. It's good for the first year. Sir Alex Ferguson has only been in the final on two occasions, so I have a future. I would like to be Chelsea manager next season, why not? I really, really don't want to speak about this, but can tell you there is no news at all."
Grant – who said he did not sleep at all after losing to United – was bullish about Chelsea's season, claiming "my team" had performed well following Jose Mourinho's departure. "People thought Chelsea were on the way down, but we've shown they can develop and play better football," he said.
However, Kenyon did little to support Grant yesterday by claiming that Chelsea didn't "like finishing second and as runners-up", which they have done this season. The chief executive refused to back the manager publicly, adding: "The standards we have set at the club, that's not something we've settled for."
Kenyon said that agreeing a new contract with Frank Lampard – who said he would sort out his future after England's forthcoming friendly internationals – was a priority. "There's no question that a deal for Frank has always been on the cards and that's certainly one thing we'd like to sort out," he said of the midfielder, who is 30 next month and has one year left on his deal, and has attracted interest from Internazionale.
It is unlikely that both Didier Drogba – sent off on Wednesday – and Nicolas Anelka will stay. Drogba is wanted by Milan, whose coach, Carlo Ancelotti, yesterday took the unusual step of naming him – along with Emmanuel Adebayor, Samuel Eto'o and Palermo's Amauri – as one of the strikers he would like to attract to the club. Anelka only arrived in January but has failed to impress. Several others are surplus to requirements or want to leave including Steve Sidwell – set to join Aston Villa – Florent Malouda, Tal Ben Haim, Ricardo Carvalho, Wayne Bridge and Andrei Shevchenko, although Chelsea will struggle to get a club to take on his contract.
The Chelsea captain, John Terry was involved in a furore over whether he had spat at United's Carlos Tevez during the match. The alleged incident was not noticed by the referee, Lubos Michel, although Uefa said it would investigate whether there was evidence that Terry was guilty of an offence.
Uefa's director of communications, William Gaillard, said: "We must wait for the report from the referee and the Uefa delegate. If the referee says he saw the incident and the player did not spit, that would be the end of the matter. But if he says he did not see the incident, then we will go back to the video coverage."
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