Abramovich does not pick my team, says angry Grant

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The Independent Online

Was it an impassioned plea or simply a very public, neon sign in the skies that the job is too big for him? Avram Grant went on the attack yesterday – just as he has promised, but so far largely failed to do, with his goal-shy Chelsea team – and complained about unfair treatment.

The target of his ire was, predictably enough, the media, football agents and a general lack of "respect". Grant also asked his critics to "wait with the knife a little bit" before sharpening their pencils to write his football obituary.

The Chelsea manager was responding to a disastrous week in which the pressure on him has risen dramatically, but not unexpectedly, following a woeful and tactically poor 2-1 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur in the Carling Cup final at Wembley. Questions are being asked about Grant's future and his ability to carry off the job both within the club and outside it. Yesterday, he focused on what he claimed was the lack of "credit" he has received for his achievements so far.

"I respect the media in England, even though you gave me no credit at the beginning, but since then I've heard a lot of lies," Grant said. "I don't think that because we lost one game... you're taking it too far. Roman Abramovich has never told me one player that he needs to play, never told me to pick the team this way. I'm in charge.

"Please, you need to respect my professionalism as much as I respect you. You're trying to hurt the team, hurt the club because we lost one game... if you think that something was wrong, you should have said it before Sunday. The relationship was fantastic between the squad. Now, because we lost, this and this and this is not good. What wasn't good is that we lost the game. That was not good. And I won't talk about the referee again. Don't take it too far. You have to see the facts of what's happened in the last few months and give respect to the players and to me for what we have achieved."

Grant was speaking ahead of today's Premier League match, at West Ham United, which begins another crucial week. Olympiakos come to Stamford Bridge in the Champions League on Wednesday and there is an FA Cup tie away to Barnsley to follow.

Yesterday, the 52-year-old Israeli sat with a crib sheet of Chelsea's record since he succeeded Jose Mourinho – three defeats in 35 games – which had been provided by the club's director of communications, Simon Greenberg, who sat beside him. "We won this, this and that," Grant said. "Good record until now. I didn't know that." He then added: "You need to see the facts of what happened in the last five months and give some respect."

Grant countered claims that there was unrest in the dressing room – despite the clear unease at his selection policy and training methods among players such as John Terry, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Joe Cole and Ashley Cole, by saying: "You said the dressing room is fighting all the time... but the players are fantastic. They behave nicely. Don't listen to the agents so much. I know there were some players who were disappointed not to play [at Wembley], but that's part of it. No one's criticised me for the team that was selected. They all look forward."

Grant did acknowledge that his assistant, Henk Ten Cate, had clashed with Terry on the training ground prior to last Sunday's final but claimed, despite sources asserting otherwise, that this had nothing to do with the Chelsea captain being anxious that he was not going to play at Wembley.

"There was some discussion between them but that was all," Grant said. The club said the argument was to do with Terry objecting to how Ten Cate was treating the young midfielder John Obi Mikel. "One minute afterwards they shook hands and hugged," said Grant. "I don't think there is any team in the world where there is no fighting some of the time."

Chelsea have come out fighting, for the time being at least, and are threatening legal action against anyone who claims that the club's chief scout, Frank Arnesen, is attempting to replace Grant with the Barcelona coach, Frank Rijkaard. Nevertheless, admiration for the former Dutch international runs deep at Stamford Bridge, although Rijkaard's brother, Herman, yesterday reiterated to The Independent that Rijkaard expects to remain at Barcelona until his contract expires, in the summer of 2009.

Rijkaard's future, as much as Grant's, may be determined by which, if any, trophies are landed this season – even if the latter refuted claims yesterday that he needed to win something to keep his job.

"We will win a trophy with Chelsea, many trophies," he said. "But you cannot build things in one day. We've done a good job with a team that was apparently on the way down. I want a trophy this season. I think we will [win one], yes, I hope."

He needs to. Yesterday's performance will have done little to enhance Grant's prospects at Chelsea, especially with regard to a squad who are not exactly enamoured by his methods and with a club hierarchy who will simply take a cold, calculated look at affairs come the end of the season, at what he has achieved since taking over from Mourinho.

Grant may have a three-year contract but failure – even relative, given that Chelsea scoring just 10 goals in nine games, with three against Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup, tells its own story – will not be countenanced.

Abramovich does not want to dispose of Grant and even if he is replaced as manager he will probably be offered his old job as director of football. Undoubtedly, though, the owner is already looking ahead to see if a change needs to be made.

Downshift: Grant on the rollercoaster

Avram Grant has come under pressure this week following last weekend's Carling Cup final defeat to Tottenham, yet just four weeks ago he was the toast of Stamford Bridge. A 1-0 victory over Reading on 30 January equalled a club-record nine successive victories in all competitions, echoing a similar run by Jose Mourinho's 2005 side. Since that match the Blues have won just one match in five, an FA Cup win over Huddersfield sandwiched by league draws with Portsmouth and Liverpool, a Champions League draw in Olympiakos and the defeat at Wembley last Sunday.

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