The simmering tension between Chelsea and Manchester United has intensified after the London club made objections to comments made by West Ham manager Alan Curbishley that it would be a "great injustice" if Sir Alex Ferguson was not to win the Premier League title. United face West Ham tomorrow in a game they have to win to keep the destiny of the title race in their hands.
Second to United in the league only on goal difference, and facing them in the Champions League final on 21 May, Chelsea are privately furious at Curbishley's comments. The West Ham manager made them in his national newspaper column and Avram Grant, the Chelsea manager, is expected to address the issue in his weekly press conference this morning.
United and Chelsea are already on uneasy terms over the racism row after Patrice Evra's fight with a Stamford Bridge groundsman on Saturday. United say that Evra believes he was called a "fucking immigrant". Chelsea say that was not true and that United keep changing their story. Now Chelsea are expected to go on the offensive over Curbishley's comments that were published 11 days ago.
Curbishley, who is a friend of Ferguson, wrote in his column that United were "attractive to watch and produced some thrilling football to match their results". Curbishley added: "It is the reason they [United] stand on the brink of winning the Championship [Premier League] for the 17th time, and the general feeling among most managers is that they would like to see them crowned again." Curbishley has since tried to appease Chelsea by making it clear that West Ham will do everything they can to beat United in order to be sure of their season bonuses.
Having beaten Liverpool on Wednesday to lead Chelsea to their first Champions League final, Grant flew to Poland yesterday to make a speech remembering the victims of the Holocaust. He took part in the "March of the Living", a two-mile walk in silence from the gates of the concentration camp Auschwitz to the neighbouring camp at Birkenau and later gave a speech to the 12,500 crowd who had gathered there. Extolling the virtues of sport as a unifying force, Grant said that Auschwitz represented "the exact opposite to unity and equality".
After the most remarkable six days of his career, Grant returned to London to begin preparing today for his side's game on Monday against Newcastle United. His players stand to share a total bonus over the whole competition of more than £3m if they win the Champions League; they have already collected more than £1m between them for beating Liverpool in Wednesday's semi-final.
Before leading a group of Chelsea players out to London's West End in celebration, John Terry paid tribute to Grant's role in leading the club following Jose Mourinho's controversial sacking after the draw with Rosenborg in the Champions League group stages in September. Terry said that it was "incredible" and "unbelievable" to question Grant's role at the club and that he had played "a massive part" albeit "along with the players, Steve Clarke, Henk Ten Cate, the fans and everyone at this club." The Chelsea captain said: "Everybody had a big part to play, none more so than the manager, Henk and the players. Credit to ourselves and the way we've dealt with things this year because at times it's not been easy."
Terry agreed that Grant now deserved more respect for his achievements; it was noticeable on Wednesday that the Chelsea crowd still did not sing their manager's name. "I think [that Grant deserves more respect] and rightly so," Terry said. "It's the first time in the club's history we've got to the final. It's never been done before by any manager or any set of players. Avram does deserve respect, yes."
As for Grant keeping his job on the basis of the season so far, Terry said "I would have thought so." He added: "Results don't lie. You look at the Premier League table since the manager has taken over and they have been very good. It is for the club to make that decision. All we can do once we are out there and once the manager is in charge is do our best and that's what we have done to get to the Champions League final."
Sir Alex Ferguson is understood to have been saying in private that he would have preferred to have faced Liverpool in the Champions League final. Having beaten Rafael Benitez's side in March and lost to Chelsea on Saturday you can see why even the United manager recognises that the momentum is with Grant's team. Didier Drogba, who scored twice on Wednesday, said that Chelsea had set out to win the competition from the start of the season. "We did not wait to September to believe we can reach the Champions League final," he said. "At the beginning of the season that was our target. OK, there was some event that was difficult for the club [Mourinho's departure], but the most important thing is to stand up and keep working as we did and the objective – to reach the final – did not change."Reuse content