'We're very proud. It wasn't easy this season'

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The Independent Online

Avram Grant brushed aside any suggestions of disappointment after his Chelsea side failed to overtake Manchester United at the top on the final day of the Premier League yesterday, preferring instead to look forward to the Champions League final in Moscow on Wednesday week.

"We wanted to win the league but it was never, even for one minute, in our hands," Grant proclaimed. "You can't say we're disappointed because we were never in first place to lose it. I think we need to be very proud of what we did this year. We now come to the final. It's our last game of the season; a game we've been dreaming of being in. We want to win."

As the Chelsea players and staff embarked on the traditional end of season lap of honour, Grant brought up the rear. It was hard to tell whether he was the shepherd leading in his flock, or an outsider, keeping a safe distance from the herd.

The generous applause he received from the Chelsea supporters was the most outward show of affection he had yet experienced from the Stamford Bridge faithful. But on an afternoon when Steve Sidwell and Claudio Pizarro also received thanks for their contributions, he would be foolhardy to look too much into it.

At one point Grant waved a large Chelsea flag handed to him by a supporter in the West Stand, while another fan pleaded: "Don't go, Avram."

"It wasn't easy this season," the Israeli said afterwards. "There were many, many good things, but to get to the good things we had to get through some very difficult times. To see that at the end the fans respect that made me very proud of them."

Ultimately, however, it will be the Champions League final, rather than a carefully coordinated lap of honour, which will decide whether or not the Chelsea supporters take him to their hearts. Magnanimous in defeat, Grant paid tribute to his Manchester United counterpart, Sir Alex Ferguson, and the 10 Premier League titles he has now won. "There aren't even words to describe what he's done," Grant said as images of the celebrating United players flickered on the television screen to his side. "I sent him a message. He's a great manager and a great person. I wished him all the best for the future. Tomorrow I'll send him another one, saying not for the next game."

While it was potentially a Stamford Bridge farewell for Grant, the same could be said for players such as Didier Drogba, Andrei Shevchenko and Frank Lampard, who could all leave the club this summer. They showed no signs that this may have been their last home game as they received their acclaim. If they are to say goodbye, the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow would be a far more appropriate setting.

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