Mourinho's absence looms large despite Grant's quiet progress
Wednesday 09 April 2008
After 10 minutes last night it looked as if Fenerbahce would need more than the Coca-Cola Kid to save them, a team of conventional superheroes would be required to deny a Chelsea side determined to make up for last week's aberration by the Bosphorus. Avram Grant's Chelsea, though, have Kryptonite dusting their boots. As in Turkey complacency set in. The tempo dropped and Fenerbahce began to pass their way into the game.
It was at this juncture that Jose Mourinho's absence loomed large. Grant, though there appears a reluctance to admit it, has done better than anyone, maybe even himself, expected. When Mourinho was deposed it seemed likely the season would have to be written off as the dressing-room rebelled and owner interfered. Instead Chelsea are in the last four of the Champions League, and on Manchester United's shoulders in the domestic campaign. Grant must take a lot of the credit for this. He may be blessed with an inheritance of good players, but football history is littered with talented yet malfunctioning teams.
And yet, to watch him standing on the touchline, like a pallbearer at a funeral, was to appreciate what Chelsea have lost. There is a limit to how much can be achieved by ranting and raving, and sometimes giving the impression of serenity is just as influential, but it is hard to imagine that the sloppiness which crept into Chelsea's game midway through the first half would have occurred under the irascible Portuguese. Any one of the many lazily miscued passes, by Michael Ballack, or Salomon Kalou, or even Claude Makelele, would have brought Mourinho to the touchline screaming with anger and pointing at the offender. A repeat and he may well have hauled off the miscreant.
Grant just sat there in the dug-out, or morosely wandered the technical area. Even when Lampard scored the second goal, sending the Bridge into rapture, Grant barely reacted. Mourinho would have been on the pitch but as his assistants celebrated Grant looked like a man wondering if he had locked the back door before coming out. Wearing all black may have enhanced Johnny Cash's presence but Grant just looks as if has run out of clean clothes.
Then you remember the family history. How Grant, as a teenager, was woken by his father having a nightmare, and was told the horror his family suffered during the Holocaust. His father explained that he had been forced to dig graves for his parents and five siblings as, one by one, they died of cold or starvation in the Russian forest. Only Grant's father and one of Grant's uncles survived.
Such a background gives a man perspective. To him this was just a football match, a big match, but just a match. Grant will not have American Express knocking on his door with a chequebook, he may struggle to motivate some of the millionaires in his dressing-room, but he is unlikely to lose sight of the important things in life. There is much to admire in that.
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