Avram Grant: Thriving as the new special one

This is Nick Townsend's original Avram Grant interview for the Carling Cup final programme, with mention of former manager Jose Mourinho...

When the exit of a football manager is accorded the status of first item on the national TV news, it means one of two things. It is either a remarkably quiet news day or that character transcends sport. Few would dispute it was the latter when Jose Mourinho departed Stamford Bridge. The Portuguese had fired emotions in the national psyche beyond the mere winning and losing of games. Amid the tumult of that day in September, the succession of Avram Grant was always going to invite unwarranted comparison.

So hostile was the reaction in some quarters, it was as if James Bond had been killed off and his successor had been named as Blofeld. To an extent, it was suspicion of the unknown. The extent of most people's knowledge was that the 52-year-old Israeli had been at Stamford Bridge for 62 days, as director of football, had the ear of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, and had previously been technical director of Portsmouth. One pundit, the former Chelsea midfielder Pat Nevin, quipped: "Avram Grant is going to be as welcome as Camilla at Diana's memorial".

Yet, from that initial scepticism has emerged a begrudging respect, even from his harshest judges. Under Grant, Chelsea remain in title, Champions' League and FA Cup contention as they arrive at Wembley's gates today for the season's first final. When you suggest to Grant that he has more than proved himself to his detractors, he is sanguine about that initial reaction.

"Firstly, I always feel that there is something to prove," he says. "All my life, every day that I train, with every team that I have, I feel that I have to prove something. If a sportsman ever comes to that day when he doesn't need to prove anything, it's the first stage of his decline. He adds: "And, look, the other thing is that I know that the English media didn't welcome me. Most of it was reasonable, because I came from another country. But people have to realise that sometimes, in another country, there are some good players, some good coaches."

A measure of his broad experience is the fact that he claimed his first trophy as far back as 33 years ago with Hapoel Petah Tikva, the Israeli club where he began his career as a youth-team coach. "I am in football all my life," he says. "I have seen how teams have developed and became great. And that's what I want to do here at Chelsea. I think that progress is good. But we want to do things step by step. I respect very much what has happened in the past, but I took the team in a difficult situation and now we go in a different way. And when you go a different way from the middle of the season, and you are a top team, you still need to win as much as you can. We have done that. We have won a lot of games and here we are in all four competitions. I think that nobody expected this. Nobody even dreamed about this. But I saw that it was possible."

And, in doing so, enhanced Chelsea's capacity to entertain? "If you look at Arsenal or Manchester United, it's taken time for them to build a style," Grant says. "We want to do something that is unique for us, and we are doing it in a shorter time. But you cannot push a button and immediately all will be perfect. We go step by step, and we see it become better and better."

His first visit to the spiritual home of English football was 31 years ago. He was a fan of Liverpool. Quiz him about that 1977 FA Cup Final, between Manchester United and Liverpool, and he still recalls: "I think Pearson scored, no? Stuart Pearson and Jimmy Case?" Not bad. It was actually Pearson and Jimmy Greenhoff for United. Case for Liverpool, who lost 2-1, to Grant's chagrin. "Wembley has, maybe, the greatest tradition in the world," he says. "To come to Wembley is like to come to a holy place. That's why it will be such a proud moment for me if we win."

He makes no assumptions on that score. "Tottenham played very well in the semi-final," he says. "They can beat any team. They also have a very good manager, in Juande Ramos. We have met a few times. I like him as a person. He is a very nice guy. Very clever. A very good coach. Everything he does, he's very calm. There are people who shout, but he's not like that. He's very quiet. I always respect people who have a good character, and who have ambitions to succeed; not because they say it, but because they show it."

In fact, a character very much in his own image; a man has ensured that the Chelsea show continues to flourish... even without its ubiquitous showman.

This is how the interview appears in the programme

It has been a short, but successful tenure for Avram Grant in his role as manager of Chelsea. Under the stewardship of the softly spoken Israeli, the Blues have maintained their Premier League title challenge, are well placed in the Champions League and FA Cup and have continued their recent love affair with the new Wembley stadium, appearing today for the third time in under a year at the new home of English football.

But when you suggest to Grant that he has more than proved himself since taking control at Stamford Bridge, his response is one filled with ambition and the subtle touch of modesty in which he has gone about ensuring Chelsea remain a giant in the English game.

"Firstly, I always feel that there is something to prove," he says. "All my life, every day that I train, with every team that I have, I feel that I have to prove something. If a sportsman evercomes to that day when he doesn't need to prove anything it's the firststage of his decline."

A measure of Grant's broad experience is the fact that he claimed his first trophy as far back as 33 years ago with Hapoel Petah Tikva, the Israeli club where he began his career as a youth-team coach. "I am in football all my life," he says. "I have seen how teamshave developed and became great.

And that's what I want to do here at Chelsea. I think that progress is good. But we want to do things step by step. "I respect very much what has happened in the past, but I took theteam in a difficult situation and now we go in a different way. And when you go a different way from the middle of the season, and you are a top team, you still need to win as much as you can. We have done that. We have won a lot of games and here we are in all four competitions. I always saw that this was possible."

And, in doing so, enhanced Chelsea's capacity to entertain? "If you look at Arsenal or Manchester United, it's taken time for them to build a style," Grant says. "We wantto do something that is unique for us, and we are doing it in a shorter time. But you cannot push a button and immediately all will be perfect. We go step by step and we see it become better and better."

His first visit to the spiritual home of English football was 31 years ago when he saw Liverpool face Manchester United in the 1977 FA Cup Final. Quiz him about that game and his passion for English football shines through as he recalls his introduction to the famous Wembley stadium: "Wembley has, maybe, the greatest tradition in the world," he says. "To come to Wembley is like to come to a holy place. That's why it will be such a proud moment for me if we win."

He makes no assumptions on that score. "Tottenham played very well in the semi-final," he says."They can beat any team. They also have a very good manager, in Juande Ramos. We have met a fewtimes. I like him as a person. He is a very nice guy. Very clever. A very good coach. Everything he does, he's very calm. There are people who shout, but he's not like that.He's very quiet. I always respect people who have a good characterand who have ambitions to succeeed, not because they say it,but because they show it."

In fact, a character very much in his own image; a man who has ensured that the Chelsea show continues to flourish.

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