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Jovial Ferguson edges glum Grant

By Jonathan Stevenson
BBC Sport in Moscow

All smiles: Sir Alex Ferguson even had a message of love for those at his news conference...

If the pre-match news conferences are any indication of the way the Champions League final will go, we might as well all pack up our bags and go home now.

The difference in demeanour between Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and his Chelsea counterpart Avram Grant could not have been more stark.

Fergie, fresh from his 10th Premier League title win only nine days before, bounded in 15 minutes early, so keen was he to get on with proceedings.

He bantered with defenders Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand while the cameras flashed and when the questions began in earnest, he exuded the confidence of a man in perfect harmony with his life.

And quite frankly, when he's in that mood, Sir Alex is great company to be in - even for a journalist.

He spoke glowingly of his side, saying he trusts his players to perform on the big stage and even ominously suggesting they can still get better.

He once more showed his respect for the victims of the Munich Air Disaster 50 years ago when he said: "We'll not let the Busby Babes down."

When asked about whether he would be nervous going into the game or whether he had the edge over Grant because of his greater experience, the master manager gave a master answer.

BBC Sport's Jonathan Stevenson

"I'm very relaxed. I want to try to influence everyone else with my experience and composure," stated Ferguson.

"This is my fourth European final now, don't forget. The first was for Aberdeen against Real Madrid and I went up to their coach Alfredo di Stefano and gave him a bottle of whisky.

"I don't think it makes any difference on an occasion like this. It's just a one-off game."

Finally, asked by the Uefa official if he had anything to say to the media corps assembled in front of him at the end of his press conference, Fergie laughed out loud.

"I love you all, I've come to spread peace," he gushed, spreading his arms out wide with a beaming smile stretched across his 65-year-old face.

When Grant shuffled in 15 minutes late for his trial over an hour later, it would not have taken Pop Idol clown-in-chief Darius to feel that there was a distinct lack of love in the room.

Asked immediately if he had anything to say to the hacks, Grant smiled wryly and offered: "Can I go now?"

I believe the Israeli has come under unnecessary fire at times this season, his main problem lying in the fact that he is not Jose Mourinho.

But on Tuesday, in the bowels of the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow little more than 24 hours away from what could be the defining point of his life, Grant seemed as though he would rather be in any other place on earth.

With speculation over his future refusing to go away, he was once more asked when he had last spoke to Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

"Always the same," he sighed. "Always you ask me about when I see the owner, why is this schedule so important?"

Chelsea players training
Chelsea players were more subdued in training

Perhaps his mood had taken a turn for the worse after a delicate opening question.

"Avram, if you win the trophy tomorrow, are you tempted just to say to the club 'here it is, I won it for you' and walk away?"

"Why?" was his stunned reply.

"Because Chelsea have never given you their proper support."

A quick glance to Blues director of communications cum mediator Simon Greenberg and Grant was quick to try to get on message.

"We are here for maybe the most important football match in the world," he said. "I am a very small part of this."

Only he isn't and he knows as much. While Ferguson plots football domination once more, there is every chance that Grant is preparing for his last game as Chelsea manager.

Whether he likes it or not, Tuesday's press conferences did more than give the press some pre-match quotes - they reflected the differing dispositions of the two sets of players.

United's enjoyed a near-euphoric training session on the much-talked about Luzhniki pitch, playing with freedom, as if they did not have a care in the world and thoroughly enjoying each others company.

Chelsea's were more subdued, more muted and, it seemed, not so at ease with one another.

They cannot hide the fact, Chelsea, that they are desperate to win this one. The club has never won the Champions League before and to do so at the end of a season of such instability would be nothing short of a miracle, on their billionaire owner's own patch, too.

"Wednesday can be the defining moment for most of this team," said Frank Lampard, with a nod to history.

But do Chelsea want it too much? Are they too desperate to put their club on the map, rather than the United players who are merely seeking to add to their illustrious history.

And has a jovial Ferguson found the perfect time to take the pressure off his players?

At 1945 BST on Wednesday, when one of the biggest club football matches in the history of the beautiful game kicks off, all will be revealed.

see also
Man Utd v Chelsea
21 May 08 |  Europe
Welcome to Moscow
20 May 08 |  Europe
Roman's Moscow homecoming
21 May 08 |  Europe

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