At 80 years old, Meir Grant is attending his first English football match tomorrow; a Carling Cup final in which his son Avram Grant has his first chance to win a trophy as Chelsea manager. And should Avram, or anyone else, require any reminder of the kind of life that puts the pressure of modern football into perspective then the old man in the stands at Wembley will provide it.
Two days before his first cup final as Chelsea manager, Grant yesterday gave the most revealing insight yet into the influences that have shaped his life. Only at 15 did he learn that his father, a Hasidic Jew originally from Poland, had survived the Holocaust but at a dreadful cost. Left with his family to die in Siberia, Meir saw his parents and five brothers and sisters die of starvation before he and another brother managed, eventually, to return to Poland.
Grant has never discussed his father's story in public until yesterday, when he described Meir as his inspiration. It was not hard to discern the connection between father and son when Grant described his father as a man who always managed to see the best in life. As a manager whose appointment following the departure of Jose Mourinho was, justifiably, regarded as one of the Chelsea hierarchy's more bizarre decisions, Grant has nevertheless always had a tendency to see the cup as half-full.
His father, he said, is "optimistic like no one I have ever seen in my life". Grant added: "He suffered a lot when he was young. He was a survivor of the Holocaust and I am named after my grandfather, who died in the Holocaust. What impressed me about my father – and he gave me a lot in my life – was that he always saw the positive things. Even now, he is optimistic. If you speak to him about the past, he says: 'It was the past but I live for the future.' He's only 80 years old! I love him."
After that, the decision to select or leave out Frank Lampard and John Terry for the final against Tottenham did not look quite so daunting. Since he took one of the biggest jobs in English football in September, Grant has been uncontroversial to the point of neutrality and unwilling to give up anything personal beyond the parameters of his job. Even yesterday he had to be coaxed into talking about his father, who is coming from Israel especially for the match.
But this being the Carling Cup final, and Grant's chance to emulate Mourinho's successful pursuit of the same trophy in his first season with Chelsea, the talk did have to turn to football eventually. Namely, what will be Grant's team tomorrow? The abundance of riches in his squad has never been more evident than now when all the superstars on Chelsea's £135m annual payroll are fit and eager to play in a big game against Juande Ramos's Spurs.
The subtext of the final is that it gives Ramos the chance to use his tactical qualities to bridge the gap in a one-off game against a Chelsea team who easily out-punch Tottenham in terms of resources. Ramos's side virtually picks itself. There is a clear hierarchy at White Hart Lane. For Grant the first XI is not nearly such a simple choice and if he picks the wrong one, there is a good chance that Ramos will take advantage.
Unusually for him Grant admitted that the decision whether or not to play Lampard and Terry, neither of whom started against Olympiakos on Tuesday, was "not easy". "JT [Terry] is a great captain even when he's not playing," he said. "On Tuesday he was a good influence in the dressing room. Alex and [Ricardo] Carvalho have been very good together and JT before he was injured. It's a hard decision before a cup final but I have to do what is best for the team."
But that is not the only decision that faces him. Ashley Cole or Wayne Bridge at left-back? Didier Drogba on his own in attack or Nicolas Anelka, too? Selecting a midfield from nine internationals is no mean feat, either. He will probably have to choose one from Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joe Cole, Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda, and pick one from John Obi Mikel and Claude Makelele. Picking Lampard and Terry is not the difficult decision but, if Grant leaves them out and loses, then he risks the anger of Chelsea fans.
Grant comes up against a man who, in his four months in charge of Spurs, has shown himself to be a most accomplished manager. Tottenham's Jermaine Jenas said of Ramos yesterday that he always thinks he can win. "It's the same when we're going to Old Trafford, Chelsea and even Real Madrid I'm sure," he said. "His philosophy is win, win, win." Yet Grant has waited all his life to be in charge of a team like Chelsea and it is on days like tomorrow that he will demonstrate whether he is up to the task.Reuse content