Grant hits back at barrage of criticism

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The Independent Online

An afternoon with Avram Grant brings to mind Howard Wilkinson's lament, "If I'm ever reincarnated I'd like to come back as a personality."

Wilkinson, the last English manager to win the league title, with Leeds in 1993, was aggrieved that his achievements were downplayed compared to managers with more media-friendly natures.

Grant could be forgiven for feeling the same. The oft-derided manager takes his team to Everton tonight knowing he will be freshly lampooned if they fail to repeat January's League Cup victory at Goodison Park. This is despite Chelsea being the only team other than Manchester United to average more than two points a game since he became manager on 20 September. Moreover, Grant's 2.37 points-per-game ratio is superior to Jose Mourinho's in the 121 league matches the Portuguese was in charge at Stamford Bridge.

Even without being armed with these statistics Grant did his best to cut a defiant note yesterday. He argued he had done better than anyone, even, somewhat incongruously, Gordon Brown, could have imagined since he took over. He claimed his rebuilding task was more difficult than it was for Mourinho as Chelsea no longer have the financial dominance of three years ago. And he ridiculed Tal Ben Haim, his compatriot, who became the first Chelsea player to publicly disparage Grant yesterday.

The defender, signed this summer on a free transfer from Bolton, said: "Jose Mourinho is the reason I came to Chelsea and if I knew Avram Grant was going to be the coach then I would have signed for another club. I knew that nothing good would come with Grant as Chelsea coach."

Ben Haim's comments may be explained by the fact he has made one League start , at Derby in November, in six months. Grant's response was withering: "I don't think Jose promised Ben Haim he will play before John Terry, Carvalho and Alex. But maybe he did. I do not know. I will ask."

He was equally dismissive of the embarrassing revelation , for the club, that Chelseafc.com columnist and much-loved former player Pat Nevin had told the BBC he would be neither "surprised or devastated" if Frank Rijkaard was Chelsea manager next season.

"Every week I hear a coach connected to Chelsea," said Grant. "It was the same last year [when Mourinho was manager]. It happens. I'm just concentrating on my job and have every confidence in what we're doing. I think we did a great job, and anyone who's a reasonable man will tell you the same.

"When I received the team I don't think anyone, including the Prime Minister of England, could see us in the position we were in [prior to Monday's draw with Wigan] and are still. We are still fighting."

Grant said that no one had told him he had to win a trophy this year to keep his job, adding he and Roman Abramovich had been discussing the future , short-term and long, and potential signings. However, he said, "the advantage that we had two to three years ago when all the big clubs in Europe did not have money, including Man United, Liverpool, Barcelona and Real Madrid, has gone. Money was not the issue here. Three years ago when a player was big money, he was ours. Now it has changed."

None of this will cut much ice with the man in the opposing dugout tonight, David Moyes, whose keenly-priced, over-achieving squad is showing signs of exhaustion in the run-in. Grant is likely to be without Frank Lampard, who is at his mother's hospital bedside, and Didier Drogba, whose knee injury remains troublesome, but Michael Essien and Nicolas Anelka are the understudies. Everton, already missing Tim Cahill, expect to be without Mikael Arteta (groin) and Leon Osman (ankle). Their replacements, as in Saturday's draw at Birmingham, should be Tony Hibbert (with Phil Neville moving to midfield) and Manuel Fernandes.

Moyes, who accepted that Everton are now playing to hold on to fifth spot, was generous about Grant's work this season. "He has done a good, steady job. It is very hard to overhaul Manchester United, they have been at the top for years and years. For a new manager to come in and achieve that sort of success in one swoop is not easy."

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