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Page last updated at 06:28 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 07:28 UK

Grant can hold his head high

By Jonathan Stevenson
BBC Sport in Moscow


Avram Grant
If Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich decides he needs any specialist football advice before deciding whether to keep Avram Grant as manager, he could do worse than turn to Sir Alex Ferguson for counsel.

The Manchester United boss had some very special words of comfort for his beaten adversary after Wednesday's epic Champions League final in Moscow that resulted in United triumphing on penalties.

"When Avram went to Chelsea it was to help [then manager] Jose Mourinho," said Ferguson. "He didn't foresee the chain of events that would lead to Jose leaving so soon.

"It has been a very difficult time for them after he was thrust into the job. Jose took with him certain loyalties from his players and that is a very tough thing for a new man to regain.

"But Avram has done that. He has done an amazing job and he has been in charge of an incredible season for Chelsea."

Ferguson is undeniably right. Grant, achingly, has ended the season trophyless after defeats in the Carling Cup and Champions League finals and finishing just behind United in the Premier League.

But having only taken over in September, he would be wrong not to look back upon the season as an unqualified success.

When asked in his post-match news conference why Mourinho's Chelsea could get over the winning line yet his couldn't, he sarcastically yet justifiably replied: "I don't know if you know this but I wasn't the manager at the start of the season."

We hit the post, we hit the bar, we did everything but score the second goal and then we lost. What can you say?

Avram Grant
Dejected, devastated, desperate as he was after a gut-wrenching loss, Grant could not say enough how proud he was of Chelsea's achievements under his stewardship this season. He must have said the word proud at least 10 times, probably more.

In fact, in what could be his last press conference as Blues boss, Grant - whisper it quietly - had just a touch of the Special One about him.

"Except for the first 30 minutes we dominated the entire game," stated the shattered Israeli coach.

"We hit the post, we hit the bar, we did everything but score the second goal and then we lost. What can you say? We lost on penalties.

"I'm not happy and I don't think I will be happy for the next few days. It will take a long time to get over this."

News conference: Chelsea boss Avram Grant

Perhaps, in the aftermath of such a crushing, emotional defeat, Grant will be given due respect for the magnificent job he has done this season.

That was at least hinted at by the generous round of applause Grant received from the press as he left the Luzhniki media conference room - even louder than the one a triumphant Ferguson received a few minutes later.

But Ferguson's point about the loyalties Chelsea's players had to Mourinho should not be overlooked.

In just over three years at Stamford Bridge, the Portuguese held an extraordinary command over his charges.

606: DEBATE
BBC Sport's Phil McNulty
The leaders of the team, John Terry and Frank Lampard, gave the impression they would run through a brick wall for the manager, who inspired them to feats the like of which Chelsea had never before witnessed.

The day Mourinho left, the club was in mourning.

Chelsea were off the pace in the league, had drawn against unfancied Rosenborg at home in the Champions League and were ravaged by injuries to key players.

Just when they thought it couldn't get any worse, their saviour, their inspiration, their leader walked away - and they seemed to be veering towards crisis.

It appeared as though Abramovich's dream of turning Chelsea into the world's biggest club was dying a painful and humiliating death.

When you fast forward eight months and see just what Grant has achieved in his short spell as manager, he could be forgiven for believing he deserves at least a full season in the hot-seat.

John is very sad, he has cried a lot, but we must not forget that we would not be here without him

Avram Grant

Of course, he refused to answer yet more speculation about his future after the game, indeed it was churlish that he was even asked.

"The future is the last thing I am thinking about now, of course," he mustered.

His thoughts, along with the rest of Chelsea Football Club, should be on trying to help their magnificent captain John Terry recover from his cruel penalty miss.

Faced with a 12-yard kick to earn the team he loves with all his heart the trophy he wants most in the world, Terry heartbreakingly slipped on the treacherous Luzhniki Stadium pitch and screwed his effort against the post and wide.

No sooner had United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar parried Nicolas Anelka's effort than the England defender was crying uncontrollably, unable to be comforted by anyone, even the manager he has learned to respect so greatly.

"John is very sad, he has cried a lot, but we must not forget that we would not be here without him," insisted Grant afterwards.

Half an hour later, Terry's defensive partner-in-chief Ricardo Carvalho confirmed that Terry had still not stopped crying in the dressing room.

Chelsea, bluntly, did not deserve to be on the wrong side of the cruellest of finals.

Chelsea captain John Terry
Blues skipper Terry was inconsolable after his penalty miss
After being tormented by the wizardry of Ronaldo for the first half-hour they got a foothold in the game, thanks to the industry and endeavour of the peerless Claude Makelele and from then on were by far the better team.

They had twice as many shots and, as Ferguson himself conceded, they overpowered United through sheer physical strength and dynamic displays from Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack.

It was Chelsea at their imperious best. And you know what? They were awesome to watch, too - not something they have been labelled with much during this turbulent campaign.

For that and so much more, Avram Grant should hold his head high.

Even if he is shortly relieved of his duties, nothing will ever be as cruel as the way in which he saw his team suffer defeat in the most important game in Chelsea's history.

If Abramovich has anything about him, he will let Grant have another shot at glory.

He has more than earned it - just ask Sir Alex Ferguson.


see also
Ferguson delight at Euro success
21 May 08 |  Man Utd
Ferguson's ascent to greatness
21 May 08 |  Man Utd
Champions League photos
21 May 08 |  Europe
Roman's Moscow homecoming
21 May 08 |  Europe


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