The timing of Portsmouth's dismissal last night of manager Paul Hart appeared perplexing, until it became clear Avram Grant expected his work permit application to be completed by the end of this week. Paul Groves and Ian Woan, coaches at the club, have been put in temporary charge but Grant is expected to become Portsmouth's fourth manager in 13 months within a few days.
Grant's permit application is to be the club's director of football, but, as at Chelsea two years ago – when the well-connected Israeli stepped in to replace Jose Mourinho – he should be allowed to become caretaker manager while waiting for his work permit to be adapted. It was applied for last month after Grant was appointed, without Hart's knowledge, seven weeks ago in new owner Ali al-Faraj's first act.
While other candidates have been mentioned, with bookmakers' odds on Darren Ferguson – recently fired by Peterborough – shortening dramatically late last night, the only question would seem to be whether Grant will take over before Saturday's visit of Manchester United, or after.
The champions would seem to be daunting first opposition, but in Israel it has long been suspected this would be his first match in the Fratton Park dug-out. No one expects Portsmouth to do anything other than lose, so even a draw would be a coup for Grant. The league match after that is a much more winnable home game against Burnley, who have claimed one point from 18 away from home. The United fixture also explains the timing of Hart's removal – he would be hard to sack if he achieved a result.
Hart is the first Premier League manager to lose his job this season. The club said the decision had been "made reluctantly based on results that leave Pompey at the bottom of the league". Portsmouth have seven points from 13 matches and are four points adrift of safety. However, most observers feel the team have been playing well, especially when it is considered that Hart, as a result of the ownership crisis which afflicted the club during the summer and autumn, had to throw a team together the week before the season started. A further complication has been the recent re-imposition of a transfer embargo which prevented Hart from signing new players, even free agents.
Peter Storrie, the chief executive who is currently on bail after being charged with cheating the public revenue in relation to a transfer in 2003, admitted Hart had been managing "under very difficult circumstances with the financial restrictions the club has faced since he took over". Storrie added: "However, the board feels that the team should have accrued more points to date and that we need a new man in charge to ensure Premier League survival.
He continued: "Paul is a man of great dignity and we hoped he would stay and help us develop younger players on the fringes of the first team. We are genuinely sad to see him leave. Everyone at the club wishes him well for the future."
Danny Webber, one of many new recruits this season, said the players were surprised: "Paul was at training today and everything was as normal. I don't think any of the players saw this coming at all," the striker said.
Hart, who previously managed Chesterfield, Barnsley and Nottingham Forest, stepped up from youth development to manager when Tony Adams was fired in February, four months after Adams had replaced Harry Redknapp. Hart was offered a role as technical director responsible for players aged 18-21, but declined it. This was hardly surprising. If a player in that age group is any good he will be training with the first team, not leaving such an appointee much to work with.
Grant spent seven months as manager of Chelsea and, had John Terry converted his infamous spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out, would have steered the team to Champions League success in 2008. The former Israeli national team manager was then replaced by Luis Felipe Scolari.
Portsmouth's last result under Hart was a 1-0 defeat at Stoke. With the game goalless, Pompey's Kevin-Prince Boateng had a penalty saved. Victory would have taken Portsmouth off the bottom and given them seven points from the last four games.
Secret of his success: How Grant gets work
Avram Grant's close friend and agent Pini Zahavi is behind his rise to prominence. Zahavi introduced him to Roman Abramovich five years ago, when Grant was manager of the Israel national team.
The Chelsea owner warmed to Grant and in 2006 asked his friend Alexandre Gaydamak, then owner of Portsmouth, to do him a favour and make Grant technical director at Fratton Park. Abramovich took him to Chelsea in 2007 as director of football, and later that year he replaced Jose Mourinho as manager. After being sacked by Chelsea, Zahavi almost got Grant the manager's job at Manchester City in 2008. Two months ago Zahavi engineered the takeover of Portsmouth by Ali al-Faraj and volunteered Grant for the job of director of football.
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