James Lawton: Granted, talk of Avram Grant's return is laughable but the joke is on Chelsea
His tirade seemed as perilous as Russian roulette with a full chamber of bullets
Just when the affairs of Chelsea Football Club appear to have moved beyond parody, reports emerge that Avram Grant may reappear as a cool and steadying influence. It has been briskly denied but then who can really say what next is about to fly over the cuckoo's nest?
Imagine it, Rafa and Avram and Roman – football's answer not to the Three Musketeers but the Three Stooges.
No doubt this is extremely hard on Rafael Benitez, who alone among the bizarre triumvirate has a body of work behind him strong enough to survive in some viable form even a fleeting association with what may lightly be described as the management structure at Stamford Bridge. But then he cannot claim to have enrolled in the circus unaware of its worst possibilities.
Grant was installed as a director of football in the first destabilising of Jose Mourinho and the idea of his becoming a nursemaid for the already seriously ailing regime of Benitez, though discouraged vigorously in some club quarters, is scarcely guaranteed to raise an eyebrow.
Reports that Andrei Shevchenko, who was also imposed disastrously on Mourinho, has been seen around the Surrey training headquarters might also stimulate speculation about a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks before he acquires his first badge.
What is known is that Grant, despite all his misadventures since his unlikely arrival in command of a Champions League final blighted by John Terry's missed penalty, remains a football confidant of the oligarch.
Any suggestion that he might now be reimmersed in the Chelsea stew sounds ultimately weird only if you detach it from the club's behaviour over recent weeks. The firing of Roberto Di Matteo, the imposition of Benitez, and his heavy-handed style, and the Clattenburg fiasco have certainly not discouraged the belief that the club are capable of just about any divergence from the realities of the football world.
That Benitez is already imperilled would be something impossible to avoid even without the orchestrated hostility you could be excused for thinking he is hell-bent on fuelling.
His tirade at West Ham, against a team which in other hands so recently won the Champions League and the FA Cup at the end of a season marked by unbridled chaos, seemed as perilous as playing Russian roulette with a full chamber of bullets.
No, you cannot sack a man after three matches but Benitez is threatening the belief, certainly given the culture of a club he has parachuted into with rather more pride than the necessary phlegm.
Of course, he was going to run a gauntlet of prejudice so deep that it could be effectively countered only by a great reservoir of self-belief and an understanding that some wounds take a little time to heal.
Benitez has never displayed a shortfall in that first quality – just ask Xabi Alonso – but the latter attribute has regularly gone missing. After an impressive 45 minutes at Upton Park, Chelsea lapsed into a performance that Benitez said was lacking in confidence, character and leadership. In all the circumstances, it was surely something to think rather than say.
Undoubtedly, the expression of it could have done nothing to weaken Abramovich's so far unrequited passion for the services of Pep Guardiola. Correspondingly, if the most desired of football exiles is following Chelsea affairs from his Manhattan retreat – and has thought about joining Chelsea for more than the proverbial New York minute – his list of demands must be lengthening by the day. The basis of them all would be the kind of authority that was so quickly removed from Mourinho, with the help of Grant.
One interesting perspective on that old catastrophe has been provided by the man who has most benefited from the kind of long-term support denied to each one of Abramovich's managers.
Sir Alex Ferguson supplied it when he said, with minimal prompting, that he could easily see the Special One marching into his shoes at Old Trafford. "He can manage anywhere," said the man who shortly before his 71st birthday is once again bestriding the Premier League.
That would be the final rebuke for the methods of Abramovich, Mourinho going to the club that proclaims, year after year, that one fact about football success is quite immutable. It is the installation of a natural-born winner underpinned by the knowledge that in all football matters he will have the last word.
Ferguson talks of Mourinho's greed for success, the power of his personality and a nerve which, extraordinarily in a man who never played a single match as a fully fledged professional, is unlikely ever to be surpassed. Such assets were in the possession of Abramovich. They were his reward for recognising the strength of Mourinho's impact at Porto and yet so quickly they were pushed to one side.
It is something with which to balance our incredulity at the straight-faced suggestion that Grant might again intrude into the affairs of Chelsea. It might not happen, we are assured, but the fact is that we wouldn't be at all surprised if it did.
That is where Chelsea have placed themselves, beyond parody, beyond reason. It leaves the rest of us awaiting the next bad joke.
Ponting the sportsman, Beckham the showman
While the career of Ricky Ponting ended in a kind of failure the latest farewell for David Beckham was bathed in all the old triumph.
There was also another difference. It was in the reaction of the 37-year-olds to the contrasting faces of those twin impostors of victory and defeat.
Ponting said he was a little embarrassed by the guard of honour ordered up by South African skipper Graeme Smith when he marched to the Test crease for the last time.
Beckham was once again suffused with pride and joy, and wrapped in the Union flag, when his LA Galaxy won a second straight trophy against the titans of Houston, Texas, in that cockpit of football excellence known as the Home Depot Center in the suburban sprawl of Los Angeles.
Forgive the sarcasm. You are probably right that the putative "Sir David" deserves better.
No one has ever coaxed more from their talent, or their ability to ride the celebrity culture which he did quite a bit to invent. It is just that when Punter went down he was engaged in something that has been the constant theme of his sporting life, the highest level of competition, to which along the way he brought quite astounding achievement.
Beckham, on the other hand, reminded you not for the first time of a withering comment made by an old critic of a rather showy goalkeeper of Blackburn Rovers. He declared: "That bugger could make a banquet out of a cheese biscuit."
Now we are told the feast may go on in France, at Paris St-Germain or Monaco. Who would put it past the most durable Goldenballs football will ever know?
More fight than farce, Flintoff foray was good for boxing
Freddie Flintoff's brief foray into professional boxing was neither as humiliating nor offensive as some aficionados might have feared.
As has already been pointed out, Flintoff and his hopeless American opponent Richard Dawson could not muster an authentic combination of professional punches between them. But Flintoff reminded us of the adventurous spirit that made him one of the great cricketers and was respectful of the discipline he had briefly slapped against in a welter of publicity.
Even some of the hype had a germ of truth. Certainly, it was hard to argue that the event had been good for boxing.
This was true at least in the extent of its reminder of what is required when you are obliged to do it for a living.
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