Avram Grant steps into the Stamford Bridge bearpit for the first time today as Chelsea manager and he will be very glad to have Didier Drogba among his squad to protect the club's 67-game unbeaten record at home in the Premier League. Grant may not be the people's choice but he asked yesterday for more time to prove himself.
The response of the Chelsea support is sure to be mixed for a man who is succeeding a unique act in English football. The return of Drogba, out since 2 September with an knee injury, could not be more timely for Grant who is desperately in need of some good news to give the home crowd. The Ivorian is not yet a certainty to play but will be in the squad to face Fulham. " He looked very sharp, very hungry for the game," Grant said.
Chelsea's new manager is revealing a little more of his personality every time he speaks and yesterday he was more relaxed than one week earlier in the surreal circumstances of his introductory press conference. He is not quite the box office hit that Jose Mourinho proved but, as he demonstrated yesterday, Grant is undoubtedly as shrewd a media player as his predecessor.
Ultimately, the question of his popularity – or lack of it – still dominates and Grant was realistic enough to say yesterday that only a run of victories will win over the Chelsea support. He still has a lot to lose today, namely that unbeaten run but he appears unflappable. "I can tell you one thing, I don't think that the fans loved Claudio Ranieri from the first week, and I don't think that they loved Jose from the first week," he said.
"They did something that made them [the fans] love them. So I will try to do the same. For me, what's important is that the team plays better and that the fans are proud of them. These things I think are possible. If the fans forget what Jose did for them, that would be wrong. They remember what other managers did for them. It's very admirable. Sometimes I want to join them."
The professed respect for Mourinho is a sensible tactic for now although Grant did complain, somewhat unreasonably, that people keep comparing him to his predecessor. He was on much safer ground when he admitted that what he needed above all was a few good results. "I need to do something, maybe I speak too much about this," he said. "I know what Chelsea needs. I know what I'm going to do."
As well as Drogba's return he said he also expected Frank Lampard and Ricardo Carvalho to be returning imminently – perhaps even one of them in time for Wednesday's Champions League game against Valencia. Given that Mourinho's anxieties – which played such a major role in his decision to accept his fate – centred upon Chelsea's ability to win that game it seems that Grant could find himself in a fortunate position indeed.
He hinted that the attacking style and four goals against Hull City on Wednesday in the Carling Cup was more in keeping with what is described as his "style". "I am only here one week," he said. " To put the style and the philosophy in one week I need to be a magician and I'm not. In other clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal it took [Sir Alex] Ferguson – three or four years to put his style on the team. I know I don't have three years – so we try to do things more quickly and I'm sure that we can."
The question of what Grant is – a naturally attacking or defensive manager – is not one that he is prepared to answer definitively. The honest reply is that he is whatever Roman Abramovich wants him to be. When pushed yesterday on why it has taken him so long to get one of the top football jobs in the world he said simply that it was because it was harder to get noticed in a relatively minor football nation like Israel.
"I think in many small countries like my country, there are very good football people that can be a manager but to get a chance is not so easy," he said. "I have been in England since 1977, at least ten times a year. I saw when the foreign coaches and players started coming and it was good for English football. I would have been happy if I was here before. It's happened now. That's what's important."
He rolls out those fact-finding trips to England so often that you could be forgiven for thinking that they counted as a proxy management career. In truth, Grant starts with no real credit at all at Stamford Bridge today – and at heart he knows that. "I need to show what I know about football on the pitch," he said. "That has to make my headlines, not me saying 'I'm like this or like that'."
Chelsea's discipline will be under extra scrutiny after they were charged in midweek with failing to control their players in the defeat at Manchester United when they surrounded referee Mike Dean after he had sent off John Obi Mikel, but Grant said, "My players were in shock but I thought they were very sporting."Reuse content