Avram Grant's bizarre press conference after victory over Everton on Thursday was a personal protest against his treatment by the press, sources at the club have indicated, and he may even take the issue further. The Chelsea manager could be similarly recalcitrant on Monday when he is expected, under Uefa guidelines, to speak at Anfield ahead of the Champions League semi-final second leg against Liverpool.
Grant is understood to be furious about certain stories, as yet unspecified, and the constant questions about his likely longevity in a job he took over in September. He is bound by Uefa rules to make himself available to speak at the official pre-match press conference on Monday although non-attendance is only punishable by a fine of 3,000 Swiss francs (£1,470) which would not be too much for Chelsea to bear. Grant is apparently yet to decide what approach he will take.
The Israeli has, thus far, taken on a long-suffering attitude towards the doubts expressed over his suitability to do the job although he did launch one tirade against the media and football agents at the end of February. As of Thursday he has, according to sources, taken the view that the confrontational approach is the best. His moody one-word answers and long mysterious silences were, in the words of one friend, an "up yours" to those he believes have attacked his credibility.
Unfortunately for those reporters present at Goodison Park on the night, Grant's behaviour was so difficult to comprehend it was not immediately clear exactly with whom he was angry. Having made a formal protest at having been ordered to play two games in four days it was assumed that the Premier League and Sky Sports were his targets. Apparently his decision to speak as normal in radio and television interviews was designed to indicate that he had targeted the press specifically.
It is unfortunate that on one of the first times Grant decided to show his mettle, no-one was entirely sure what it was he was upset about – not a problem that Sir Alex Ferguson or his predecessor Jose Mourinho ever endured. Both have had a rocky relationship with the press but never left those on the opposite side of the desk in any doubt what it was that had ignited their temper. However, this latest episode does demonstrate how eager the Chelsea manager is to be taken seriously.
There is little doubt that Grant has shown patience in the face of constant doubt over his suitability for the Chelsea job, yet as a relative unknown in English football, and a close friend of Roman Abramovich, this was always likely to plague him. When he has chosen to share the experiences that have shaped his life, such as his father's survival during the Holocaust, he has presented a more intriguing and detailed picture of himself. In contrast, his constant attempts to present his career in Israeli football as somehow comparable to that of his more-celebrated managerial peers in the Premier League have been impossible to take seriously.
In the meantime, while he works on the cutting one-liners and the merciless put-downs for Monday's press conference, Grant also has cause for concern over the fitness of Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack for Tuesday's game at Anfield. While Chelsea have four days to prepare for the game, the fears over Drogba's availability are that he may not be ready to face Liverpool. With the game at home to Manchester United one week away there will be a temptation to rest him.
The knee injury that caused Drogba to miss the games against Wigan and Everton was sufficiently severe that the club's medical department have always been working towards Tuesday's match as the most realistic target. As it is, he may have to wait until the second leg at Stamford Bridge before he is fit to play again. The club have also not put a date on a return for Frank Lampard. He has been with his mother Pat who is being treated in hospital for pneumonia.
Ballack, however, should be back in time for Tuesday. The German midfielder took a blow to his right foot during training before the Everton game. It was a relief to the player that it was not the left ankle upon which he had surgery last year – that injury ruled Ballack out for eight months. He is back in training already.
Chelsea's defender Ricardo Carvalho said that playing the second of the Champions League semi-final legs at home would make a difference this time. "In both of the previous semi-finals the second leg was at Anfield so hopefully it will make a difference with the second leg being at Stamford Bridge this time," he said. "We lost on penalties the last time and in the previous semi-final to a goal that nobody saw cross the line. It was difficult [to take].
"In the Champions League you need a little bit of luck as well. If the ball doesn't go, it doesn't go in. I hope it's our turn to have a little bit of luck. It's always difficult to play at Anfield, they have a great atmosphere there, but every big player wants to play there."
Walk outs and wind ups: When managerial press conferences go wrong
*Jose Mourinho, February 2005
In a display of full-on Iberian machismo, Mourinho came close to losing his rag after the 2005 Carling Cup final. He had already been moved out of the dugout at the police's insistence for making a gesture to the crowd, then he got nasty when a reporter suggested that his waving at the crowd was designed to wind up Liverpool fans rather than acknowledge his wife, Tami. Sensing – wrongly – that this was some kind of slight on his better half, Mourinho let rip. "I was waving to my wife in the front row. Be careful what you say – I think you can be a bad boy. I have to adapt to English football and you have to adapt to me - if not we will have a fight."
*Sir Alex Ferguson, December 2005
Fergie gave a bizarre 74-second press conference/monologue to reporters in the week that his side went out of the Champions League group stages at the hands of Benfica, leaving with the words: "That's all I've got, see you later, I'm too busy."
Three years earlier he had set the gold standard for rants when he told the Manchester press pack, "Youse are all fucking idiots" during an – admittedly one-sided – debate about Juan Sebastian Veron. For the first time a Fergie outburst was reported rather than, as had been the norm, tactfully swept under the carpet.
*Steve McClaren, March 2007
"Gentlemen, you can write whatever you want to write," turned out to be the most memorable line ever uttered by McClaren in his 15 months in charge of the England team. He said it after the laboured 3-0 win over Andorra in Barcelona.
*Rafael Benitez, November 2007
"I am focused on training and coaching my team" - so said Benitez 15 times in one press conference. This was his passive-aggressive way of showing he was angry at being told by his American employers there was no money for the January transfer window.
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