The sight of Avram Grant in the opposing dugout at Stamford Bridge tonight will serve as a timely reminder for Carlo Ancelotti concerning the price of failure. Grant, who returns to the club he took to the Champions League final, represents what happens to managers who fail to deliver the goods at Chelsea.
Roman Abramovich's ruthless treatment of Grant 18 months ago has become a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of taking over the reins at the club. The Portsmouth manager returns to Stamford Bridge tonight with Ancelotti's season at a crossroads. Chelsea still lead the Premier League but they have gone four games without a win. Questions are being asked of Ancelotti, not least his coaching of a defence that has leaked 10 goals in those four games.
Grant still feels he was treated harshly by Abramovich last year, but Ancelotti, who was sacked by Juventus in 2001 after twice finishing runner-up in Serie A, said yesterday that winning trophies is the tried and tested safeguard against being dismissed. The Chelsea manager said: "If you don't win it can be a problem. When you take a team in the final of the Champions League it means you did a good job. The club can decide to change. This is not a problem. I was second with Juventus for two years and the club decided to change the coach. This is normal."
Grant was appointed Jose Mourinho's replacement as Chelsea manager in September 2007, and under his leadership Chelsea finished second in the Premier League, just two points behind champions Manchester United. They were also losing finalists in the Carling Cup and would have won the Champions League final had John Terry scored the vital penalty against United. Abramovich does not like coming second and he sacked Grant three days after the Moscow final.
The Israeli was philosophical yesterday as he reflected on his time at Chelsea and the nature of his departure. "I can be very proud what we did at Chelsea. It was a very good season – one of the best," Grant said.
"You look at Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, they needed more than one year but we did it in a short time. I am not only pleased with what we did but how we did it. From the first day the team always developed more than what the club expected. The chairman said it was my fault John Terry missed the penalty and why we started the season so badly but what is the job of the manager? To be guilty. The owner took a decision and I had two choices, to look back or to look forward."
Chelsea still top the league but the manner of their defending in the last two weeks since they won 3-0 at Arsenal has given their rivals hope. Uncertainty at the centre of defence is in danger of undermining their season. Ancelotti admitted yesterday sometimes players need to be shocked into improving their attitude.
"Sometimes it's necessary for a manager to give an electric shock to his players. It's not right to be angry every time because if you are the players won't listen," he said.
Portsmouth, who are bottom of the table, will be without defender Younes Kaboul, who is suspended. For Chelsea, Alex returns in defence in place of Ricardo Carvalho, and there will be a late fitness test on striker Didier Drogba, who scored twice in Saturday's 3-3 draw against Everton. The Ivorian took a knock to his lower back in training yesterday.
Some Chelsea fans booed at the final whistle on Saturday, prompting goalkeeper Petr Cech to accuse them of having short memories. But Ancelotti said: "That means our supporters want to always see the best for the team. We want to do the best. It's a good motivation," he said. If that's the case the return of Grant should provide yet more incentive for Ancelotti.Reuse content