Sam Wallace: Grant just a pawn in fickle and ruthless world of Abramovich
This episode tells you the owner will do anything he likes without fear or shame
Monday 26 May 2008
In the film Being There, Peter Sellers' character Chance is an illiterate gardener who, in his fifties, is forced out of the job he has done all his life and into the outside world that he cannot comprehend. Through a series of misunderstandings and coincidences – and with no design on his part – he ends the film as a potential new American president, a man whose every utterance is considered profound. The point of the film is that all this is not Chance's fault; it is the absurdity of the system around him.
Avram Grant is not quite the perfect fit for a modern-day Chance – he was far too complicit in his own ascent to the job of Chelsea manager – but the similarities are hard to ignore. A man plucked from nowhere and promoted far beyond his abilities, an individual who found himself spectacularly well-placed at just the right time to get a job to which much better qualified men will never come close. For Grant to start making a logical argument as to why he should now keep his job is itself absurd: when did logic have anything to do with Avram Grant getting the Chelsea job in the first place?
There is no hidden dimension to Grant, no brilliance that he likes to keep from the public gaze. He is, according to those within the club, a perfectly nice man in way out of his depth who stumbled and stuttered through his Champions League final team talk to the point of embarrassment. All those panicky, self-conscious attempts to look serious on the touchline? They were genuine. They did not mask the work of a great football tactician.
Grant we can comprehend; it is the system that made him Chelsea manager and the one that then took it away from him just as belligerently, that invites the real wonder. Like Being There – it is the factors that have put Grant in his place, not Grant himself, that are the whole point of the saga.
Never has an English football club as big, as important and as successful as Chelsea been controlled by such a fickle, unaccountable, powerful and unapologetically ruthless group as Roman Abramovich and his entourage. They do as they please. There will be no apology for the Grant appointment, there will be no reasons given by the Russian billionaire as to what he is doing now and why. He does not feel he has to.
All the rest of us can do is remember that there are no rules and no precedent when judging the actions of this club.
At some point, Peter Kenyon, the Chelsea chief executive, and the club's amiable chairman Bruce Buck – think Larry David but with infinitely more social grace – will be shoved on to centre-stage to explain it all.
They had to do the same when Grant was appointed in September and battled on manfully defending a decision that was made, essentially, at the whim of Abramovich. But don't feel sorry for them: they choose to have the jobs they do.
In the chaos of the press conference that accompanied Grant's appointment, as the two men desperately tried to justify the decision of their very rich, notably absent employer, one remark above all from Buck at least made some sense of the situation. Faced with the essential truth that Chelsea had just replaced one of the most highly rated managers on the planet with a novice to European football, Buck said simply that Abramovich's track record was not that of a man given to making bad decisions. In other words, Abramovich did not amass a fortune of £11.7bn in a place as volatile as the former Soviet Union by sacking organ grinders and fast-tracking monkeys.
It was the one point that you could not argue with: Abramovich must know what he is doing, right? And while it would be a bit New Labour to argue that the titans of big business have the answer to every problem presented by society, the least you could do at the time in those circumstances was give Abramovich the benefit of the doubt. Maybe, you thought then, he saw success in Grant; just the same way as he saw gold in the crumbling administration of the Soviet Union. Eight months on and no one can seriously be giving Abramovich the benefit of the doubt any longer.
The decision-making at Chelsea is erratic and whimsical. Last time around, someone's mate was given the manager's job; there is a court full of advisors and not one trophy to show for it this season. So where does this end? If you are a Chelsea supporter then the folly of the Grant episode tells you that this owner will do anything he likes without any fear or shame. That must also mean selling up on the £578m dream and leaving the club as abruptly as he arrived without so much as a shrug. And what will the fans do about it? A few banners? A protest march? Don't count on it changing Abramovich's mind.
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