The new Chelsea era was ushered in yesterday with Avram Grant admitting that he was a "normal person" rather than the "Special One" before going on to claim that he could emulate Arsène Wenger's success at Arsenal. In short, it was another surreal 24 hours at Stamford Bridge with senior officials trying desperately to put a brave face on three shambolic, turbulent days.
There had been some bizarre and memorable moments in the stadium's press room during Jose Mourinho's three-year reign but nothing to match 45 minutes of Peter Kenyon, the chief executive, and Bruce Buck, the chairman, trying to defend the indefensible. Having sacked the most successful manager in their club's history they were left with the unenviable task of building up an unpopular new coach who is unknown outside his native Israel.
Buck did his very best to be honest, admitting bluntly that "the relationship between the owner and the board on one hand, and Jose on the other has broken down". For his part in the whole saga, Kenyon looked fairly distraught at having to explain why Mourinho had to go. The unsaid answer was simple: because Roman Abramovich, Chelsea's owner, had demanded it.
Grant spent much of his first press conference between these two men, little more than a silent bystander. With very little of the charisma of his predecessor, he explained: "I'm a normal person and I have my own philosophy. I respect everything that has been here in the past and I fully respect Jose Mourinho. I enjoyed the two months we worked together. He had much success here with Chelsea"
Later, when pushed on how a 52-year-old man with no Premier League or Champions League experience expected to take on one of the biggest jobs in world football, he was a bit more daring. "I remember when Arsène Wenger came here, people said, 'Arsène who?' and he did a great job," Grant said. "Fabio Capello started as the youth team coach of Milan. I'm not at day one on football, I have experience."
There were no spectacular speeches to kick off the reign of Grant, but then yesterday was as much about Mourinho as anyone else. Kenyon explained how "the major part" of his job had been, over the last two years, "keeping it together" as the former Chelsea manager and Abramovich had feuded endlessly.
Aware that he could not completely lift the lid on the politics of the club, Kenyon said that there had been no definitive "bust-up" between Mourinho and his Russian boss that had brought matters to a head. "I can assure you that it was the right decision for the club and for Jose," he said. "As painful, difficult and unpleasant as that might seem, that is the fact. I can't give you a wonderful headline about a bust-up."
As Mourinho had never lost in the Premier League at Stamford Bridge in more than three seasons – and won two titles, an FA Cup and two Carling Cups – the two men were still very short on detail as to why they had sacked him. Nevertheless, Buck belied the reputation of his legal background with some refreshing straight talking and it was he who gave the clearest explanation as to why Abramovich had ordered that Grant should replace Mourinho.
"We don't argue the fact that Jose's track record is more successful than Avram's," he said. "However, it is very important in a relationship between a board and owner and its manager that there is mutual confidence. There must be agreement on strategy, vision and approach. We have spoken with Avram a lot and we believe he has the same ambition as us."
The vision and approach will have to be good tomorrow when Grant faces Manchester United at Old Trafford in his first game in charge with Frank Lampard, Ricardo Carvalho and Michael Ballack all still injured.
Grant will observe the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur today and not train with his team. He is still even operating on the same relatively modest contract he signed in the summer as director of football.
Grant will need to bring in some new backroom staff with knowledge of English football quickly. As The Independent revealed yesterday, Jamie Redknapp, the former England international, is top of his list and Grant plans to speak to him next week. Abramovich is also an admirer of Redknapp, who captained both Liverpool and Tottenham during his playing career.
In the meantime it has been left to Kenyon to reassure the Chelsea players that the club are still on track and – somewhat remarkably – he claimed yesterday that the squad were "unanimously" behind the new manager. "Avram will be more popular if he wins on Sunday," Kenyon said. "If he wins more in the next five years than we have won in the last three, then it will have been the right decision. I believe he is the man and that he can win two European Cups."
Despite the obvious connection between the two men, Buck and Kenyon were at pains to point out that Grant had not been appointed just on the basis that he was good friends with Abramovich himself. While there are few who would share that opinion, even inside the club, it would appear that it is a line that the embattled duo are determined to stick.
"Roman is a very successful businessman and this was a very thought through decision made in consultation with the board," Buck said. It would be a permanent decision, he added, and although Grant did not have a fixed period on his contract there was no question of another coach being sought. "Guus Hiddink's name has not been mentioned in any discussions," Buck said.
Grant claimed that over the last 10 years he had visited the top English clubs six or seven times a season and had watched many games, although it was not clear how that qualified him for the role. "I'm a person of my own mind and I will make the decisions on my own," he said. "I will take the blame if we lose or if we win. I am sure it is not his [Abramovich's] ambition to pick the team. I will take the decision, good or bad."
Somehow it's always Manchester United: How Sir Alex Ferguson has always had the first impression of a new Chelsea manager
* An away match against the champions may seem like the fixture from hell but, by extraordinary co-incidence, Avram Grant is the third successive Chelsea manager to start against Manchester United.
Claudio Ranieri and Jose Mourinho both faced Sir Alex Ferguson in their first match as a Premier League manager.
Neither lost, but perhaps of greater long-term significance is that both debuts gave strong clues as to how their respective teams would play during their reign.
Will Grant's first outing be as revealing?
* CLAUDIO RANIERI, 23 Sept, 2000
Manchester United 3 (Scholes, Sheringham, Beckham) Chelsea 3 (Hasselbaink, Flo 2)
Ranieri is a surprise choice after Gianluca Vialli's shock sacking. He oversees a chaotic but thrilling match kick-started by a Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink thunderbolt. United respond with three goals in 25 minutes but Chelsea rally to earn a point thanks to two goals from Tore Andre Flo.
JOSE MOURINHO 15 August, 2004
Chelsea 1 (Gudjohnsen) Manchester United 0
After Eidur Gudjohnsen scores early Chelsea are content to defend in depth. It works. Chelsea fans are happy, the more so when the club go on to lift their first title in 50 years. Yet there are observations, from the pundits, that this was not exactly in the job spec that Roman Abramovich allowed Peter Kenyon to release when he was briefing against Ranieri.Reuse content