James Lawton: No wonder O'Neill rejected West Ham, it is a rancid chalice
Avram Grant is no Ron Greenwood but who could not be revolted by the treatment he has received from one of the more unacceptable faces of football ownership?
Thursday 20 January 2011
Can it really be just 22 years since John Lyall, Ron Greenwood's hand-picked successor, cleared out his desk in the manager's office of West Ham United? What a football place it was back then, even under the pall of relegation.
But then such demotion was just one of the imposters which Greenwood used to dismiss imperiously over a glass of sherry in his office after the Saturday game. What was important was to know how to play, to bring on youngsters with a proper grounding in the game and the right priorities, and anyway if you went down one year, you might very well come straight back and maybe win the Cup in the meantime.
That happened at Upton Park enough to give some foundation to such optimism and when Lyall left West Ham in the Second Division in 1989 it was also true that three years earlier he had finished third in the top flight.
Yes, we know what the drop means today, how huge the dividing line has become, but it is still surreal now to think of those times, when the memory of Moore and Hurst and Peters was so fresh and someone like Trevor Brooking was there to show that the faith in football, and a certain way of doing things, would always burn strongly in one corner of the East End.
Avram Grant, even his warmest admirers would probably agree, is no Ron Greenwood and someone might also say that the highpoint of his career, when he stretched out in prayer at Stamford Bridge after Chelsea reached the 2008 Champions League final, could not be a matter for universal celebration if you remembered his role in the downfall of Jose Mourinho.
But then who could not be revolted by the treatment he has received from one of the more unacceptable faces of football ownership?
It has been so bad that there can only be surprise at one aspect of Martin O'Neill's rejection of the rancid chalice. It took him almost a full week. He can't have been paying much attention when the ground was so systematically removed last year from beneath Gianfranco Zola, a tyro manager, certainly, but one of great dignity and transparent decency. He must have missed the anguished hatchet-job co-owner David Sullivan performed on the Italian in the club programme.
Now we are told by Sullivan that Grant has the 100 per cent backing of the ownership. Not exactly a dose of bedtime Mogadon, is it? Certainly it is a remarkable transformation considering that a few days ago the thwarting of the manager's desire to sign Aston Villa's Steve Sidwell was not only rejected but had chief executive Karren Brady, who is occasionally and bizarrely projected as one of the significant football figures of her time, proudly announcing that hers was the hand that delivered the veto.
It should be beyond belief, we know, but then how do we begin to chart a fitting level of incredulity? Every new football day, after all, seems to confirm the suspicion that someone threw away the moral compass.
Steve Bruce's bitter criticism of the manner of Darren Bent's departure to Aston Villa from Sunderland, coming on the heels of Steven Pienaar's declaration that he was mentally unprepared to crown his Everton career with an appearance in Sunday's derby match, was another strand of damning evidence – but then it wasn't so easy to contradict claims that Bruce's managerial career has not exactly been a monument to personal loyalty.
For the moment, however, all pales beside the behaviour of West Ham United. Sherry in the office, did we say? No, make mine hemlock.
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