So, is dismissal really to be the price of victory? Nothing would surprise you about a Premier League increasingly run on the whim of absentee foreign nationals. Yet at the climax of a remarkable season, reminiscent of the time 40 years ago when Matt Busby's Manchester United, locked together on points with their city rivals, capit-ulated on the final day, Avram Grant still cannot escape that question. It comes in various guises, but basically can be condensed down to this: just how long is he for Roman Abram-ovich's impenetrable world?
By the end of today, Grant and Sir Alex Ferguson could share the points, some excellent Israeli wine that the Chelsea manager has promised his rival (whom he first encountered back in the days when Alan Hansen was advising the Manchester United manager: "You'll never win anything with kids") and mutual respect. But not job security. Not even if the Israeli, the mumbling, self-styled "normal one" who in virtually every way is the antithesis of Jose Mourinho, secures a championship, a Champions' League or both.
He was asked why he did not take the opportunity to state that he would be here next season, and that Abramovich was content with his work. "It is not the right question to ask any manager in the world," said Grant, who has a four-year contract. "Even Arsène Wenger cannot answer this question 100 per cent. If he knows football, he can't. If Alex Ferguson almost left three years ago, [it tells you that] in football anything can happen. Because sometimes the club don't want you. Sometimes you don't want the club. You need to do your job, and not be afraid about what will happen in the future. I prepare myself, of course. I do everything, the preparations for next season."
He paused, before continuing:"Look, what depends on me, I can answer you. What doesn't depend on me, I cannot answer and I don't care. I need to do my job, and I will do it."
And yet something about the Israeli's demeanour told you that he was either demob-happy on Friday at Chelsea's Surrey training complex or he had been made aware of Chelsea's plans, and they did not include the arrival of Frank Rijkaard. From the vibes afterwards, it was probably the latter, although there remains a belief in some quarters that he will return to his director of football role.
In the week that Kevin Keegan has opened a debate, not just with his employer, Mike Ashley, but within the football world, with his observation that the big four's domination of the Premier League is "boring", it could be said that the uncertainty over Grant's future adds another intriguing dimension to the already absorbing cut and thrust of mere points accumulation. It is also indicative of the kind of madness that besets a league in which power bases include such figures as Hicks and Gillett, Shinawatra and Abramovich.
In that context, United's Glazer family appear positivelyhoned in the finest traditions of football ownership. At least Ferguson can discuss his own continuity of service as he contemplates United securing their 10th Premier League title today with a defeat of Wigan at the JJB Stadium (or any result that at least matches what Chelsea manage at home to Bolton). Hence, at about the same time Grant was prevaricating about his future, Ferguson could confidently declare when asked whether time was catching up with him: "No, I'm carrying on, I've got a bit of damage to do yet..."
Regardless of Chelsea's fate in the next 10 days, some sceptics will contend that Grant has merely picked up the baton handed to him by Mourinho. Just how hard could that have been? Grant says: "I could have been like an elephant that goes into a shop and breaks everything. But one big, big man, who was not in football, changed me. He said to me once: 'More than to know what to change, you need to know what not to change.' So, we change things here – but not the players." So, now we know.
What makes this hors d'oeuvre, and what many would consider to be the main course that follows in Moscow, so compelling is the faith of both managers that their teams are parading the finest exhibitions of football. While Grant claims Chelsea have recently played "the best football at the right times against big teams and big managers", Ferguson counters with this assessment of his own men: "I don't necessarily think they believe they are the best players in the country, but they have a confidence in their own abilities. They trust each other, they have confidence in each other."
Grant first comprehended Ferguson's qualities when he was his guest at a training session at a time when the Scot was introducing David Beckham and "the kids". "Alex has built this unbelievable success because he goes with what he believes and does not pay attention to what others think," said Grant. "I was there, I remember, at the old training ground [The Cliff] and it was not a good moment, by the way, that week. Nobody believed him that he could make this team successful, because he had young players. They were not easy times for him." No, not easy. But still, that season, 1995-96, Ferguson's men claimed the League by four points after famously overhauling Keegan's Newcastle.
This season has turned out to be no less exacting than that year. "I think Alex is a great manager and a great person but he's under pressure now," insisted Grant, attempting to inject some belated psychological mischief into matters. Yet the difference between the pair could not be more pronounced. If United claim a 10th Premier League title it would deservedly enhance Ferguson's managerial stature over 22 years in charge of United. Triumph for his rival might just extend his tenure at Chelsea beyond 10 months.Reuse content