Grant hopes to deliver parting gift to the fans who adore him
Portsmouth manager hails Cup run as more impressive than his exploits with Chelsea
Saturday 15 May 2010
Last Sunday, after Portsmouth's final league game of the season at Goodison Park, the applause was rather louder and longer-lasting than normal, even given Pompey's vociferous and numerous travelling support.
Avram Grant looked around, reflecting on an impossibly turbulent season for the south-coast club, but wondered why and who everyone was clapping. Then the mystery was cleared up. "I went to the Portsmouth supporters," Grant explained, "and my sister said to me the whole stadium was cheering me. I do not know if happy is the right word but it gives me a good feeling. I was very touched by what happened at Everton."
In other words, getting on for three years after being looked on with a mixture of envy and contempt as he emerged from the background to become manager of Chelsea, Grant has, evidently to his surprise, now been adopted as one of the Premier League's favourite sons. Arsène Wenger, for all his success and longevity in England, is never given such a reception away from the Emirates.
How did it come to this? With his penchant for black clothing and what looks like a near-permanent scowl on his face, he resembles more an undertaker on a bad day than a Premier League manager but maybe that is appropriate. Given that this season Pompey came close to extinction in the High Court with debts of £140m, Grant might have been asked to read the last rites.
As it is, Grant, who will lead Pompey out today for the FA Cup final against Chelsea – in a black suit of course – has done just about every other job at Fratton Park since his appointment in November. A never-ending injury list that has, among other players, deprived him today of Hermann Hreidarsson in defence, Kevin-Prince Boateng in midfield and possibly Jamie O'Hara too, has meant he is more acquainted than he would like with the treatment room, and time spent with the administrator has brought other faculties into play.
"I've been a lawyer, a doctor, but it was not good," he said. "I was the football manager but at the end of the day I didn't know what the club was going through. But it was very difficult every day to come and not know what would happen." When he pleads: "Not for me, not for the club, another season like this," you can feel his pain. Regardless of today's result, they will have to rebuild next season in the Championship.
The former Israel national coach tries to numb that pain with his gallows sense of humour. He joked that, in the wake of Chelsea's 8-0 thrashing of Wigan last weekend, the Blues had agreed "to stop when it gets to 4-0" at Wembley, saying Chelsea owed him a favour. When he was talking about his first coaching job, at Petah Tikva in his homeland, and said that compared to Tikva, Fratton Park's pitch was like Wembley, he quickly realised that was not the compliment it should be.
But wry laughs alone have not been enough to take Portsmouth to their second FA Cup final in three seasons. If some perceived Grant, in his time at Chelsea, to be football's version of Chauncey Gardiner, the Peter Sellers character in the film Being There, who rises to a position of great power and influence by doing nothing except being in the right place at the right time, his work during Pompey's Cup run has shown his true worth. In the semi-final against Tottenham at Wembley, he motivated several half-fit players to run for two hours, leading to their 2-0 win.
Grant, 55, took Chelsea to their first, and so far only, Champions League final two years ago, losing on penalties to Manchester United. Comparing that campaign with Pompey's Cup run, he is sure which is the more impressive. He said: "It is more difficult with Portsmouth. When you come to the Champions League final, even if it's the first time, there is no difference between Chelsea and other clubs, they are the same, more or less. Portsmouth have played against teams much better than us so it is more difficult.
"The story is the semi-final. We did more than our job this season by getting there. I thought even if we get to the final we would not be happier than when we got to the semi. It was a great achievement and a great feeling."
Grant took over at Chelsea after Jose Mourinho departed in September 2007. Grant, too, was sacked, after that Champions League defeat. Yet he shows little bitterness over that episode, instead feeling he brought something positive to a club that was tearing itself apart from the inside. He recalls: "I can't tell you everything was perfect but there were so many good things. To lose only one game in the league, and that was my first, against Manchester United, the Champions League final, the quality of football, the atmosphere, the image of the team changed – so many good things that have been continued. We changed the image of the team."
He has brought a certain style to Pompey's game too, although this final will, in all probability, be Grant's last in charge. Chauncey Gardiner, as his star continues to rise, ends the film blissfully walking on water, heading towards the horizon. If Grant wins today, he might experience a similar sensation.
Two painful years since Portsmouth won the FA cup
*First FA Cup triumph in 69 years
17 May 2008: Kanu scores the winner as Harry Redknapp's team defeat Cardiff.
*Redknapp quits for Tottenham
25 Oct 2008: Tony Adams takes over.
*Big names begin to depart
Jan 2009: Jermain Defoe and Lassana Diarra exit as the club's troubles emerge.
9 Feb 2009: Tony Adams replaced by Paul Hart after five wins in 23 games.
*Club changes ownership
26 Aug 2009: Alexandre Gaydamak sells to Sulaiman al-Fahim, who 40 days later sells to Ali al-Faraj.
*Hart out after less than a year
24 Nov 2009: Paul Hart is sacked as manager and replaced by Avram Grant.
*Financial problems come to head
23 Dec 2009: HM Revenue and Customs file winding up petition against Pompey.
*Another new owner
3 Feb 2010: Balram Chainrai becomes fourth new owner of the season.
*Club enter administration
26 Feb 2010: The club becomes the first Premier League side to enter administration and are docked nine points.
*Drop down to Championship
10 April 2010: Relegation confirmed.
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