Avram Grant, the new West Ham United manager, did his best to straight-bat all questions fired his way on his first official appearance at Upton Park yesterday but broke into a fit of the giggles when asked whether striker Benni McCarthy, who admits to carrying a few extra pounds, was looking hungry in training.
"That's a good one. You see that I lost a lot of kilos. It's a good example for Benni, I did it for him," Grant said.
It was a rare moment of levity from Grant who seemed to be determined to spend his regulation half-hour with the media saying as little as possible. As we know from his previous spells in charge at Chelsea and Portsmouth, this is not a manager who is going to win over the public by dispensing pearls of wisdom to the media.
The main thrust of Grant's message was that he will be the man making the footballing decisions at the club, and not the Hammers' outspoken co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold.
Grant, 55, has signed a four-year deal with the two Davids, despite the fact that the club's joint chairmen persistently undermined the previous manager, Gianfranco Zola, with their almost daily comments on team affairs. Since Zola departed, Sullivan and Gold, who between them own 60 per cent of the club, have spoken regularly of their so-far unsuccessful attempts to sign players such as Thierry Henry, Miroslav Klose and Joe Cole. To call them "hands-on" is something of an understatement, yet Grant appeared unmoved by the pair's reputation for interfering.
"They have just hired me but so far it is great. They are so passionate about the club. Our relationship is good and, of course, I am the manager and I pick the players and the squad and they know that," Grant said.
"As long as I am the manager, I'm taking the decisions and I'm responsible for this. What's happened in the past, happened in the past, I will judge everything from now.
"I cannot work in a team that someone else will decide about the players and where it would not be my responsibility. I like the pressure and I like the responsibility. All the football issues are my responsibility and I have the final word."
Grant inherits a side that finished 17th in the Premier League last season, and a first-team squad that Sullivan put up for sale recently in its entirety, aside from captain Scott Parker. The Israeli attempted to build bridges by saying all players would return for the new season with the slate wiped clean, and the stresses of last season forgotten. He stated, however, that he only wants players at the club who are keen to be there, a dig perhaps at England defender Matthew Upson, who has one year left on his contract.
The manager said: "We need to do everything to keep a player like Upson. But also, the West Ham fans deserve players who want to play for the club. I only want players who want to play because I think we will have a great future. It will be good for us and good for the players. Of course, Matthew is one of them."
Grant's appointment has divided opinion among West Ham supporters. Some believe he is a sensible, experienced manager who instructs his teams to play attractive, attacking football. Others say he is dull and uninspiring, a limited manager whose Portsmouth side finished 16 points behind West Ham last season, or seven points if you ignore their nine-point penalty for going into administration.
At least he shares supporters' desire to see a return to the glory days. Grant spoke yesterday of how he watched West Ham in the early 1970s under their legendary manager Ron Greenwood.
"It was exciting for me to be here as this club had a tradition of football and it was a few years after they had players that had won the World Cup," he said. "West Ham were the key players in the tournament. It was just exciting to be here in the training ground."
If Grant proves to be half as good as Greenwood, then it will have been an inspired appointment by Gold and Sullivan. Stand or fall, however, Grant is determined that things will be done his way.
Sublime, ridiculous, realistic: West Ham's targets so far
Just weeks after protesting how in debt they were, West Ham won headlines by offering the French striker £75,000 a week in a two-year contract to return to the Premier League. However, following his departure from Barcelona, Henry looks to be heading to New York.
Last month, the Hammers were in talks to take the 32-year-old striker off Bayern Munich's hands. But as co-owner David Sullivan said: "We had a deal in place before the World Cup, after he had a bad season in Germany. However, as a result of what he has done at the World Cup, it's unlikely to happen."
The 18-year-old Santos wunderkind, controversially omitted from the Brazil squad for the World Cup, has been linked this week with a £16m move to east London. Chelsea and Real Madrid are also reported to be interested in the striker but are less likely to offer him guaranteed first-team football.
Slightly less ambitiously, but with a higher likelihood of going ahead, West Ham are interested in the former Portsmouth striker who played for new manager Avram Grant at Fratton Park. Other Pompey players believed to be about to follow Grant include Tal Ben Haim and Kevin-Prince Boateng.Reuse content