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Grant deserves sympathy

By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Avram Grant
Avram Grant has been a dignified presence at Chelsea

Avram Grant cradled heartbroken John Terry in his arms as Chelsea's iconic captain broke down in despair after missing the penalty the would have won the Champions League.

It is to be hoped there is sympathy left over for Grant after he was acquainted with the savage ruthlessness that now accompanies the dogfight for honours at the top of the English game.

Grant's sacking, announced at 1759 BST on Saturday, was no great surprise after messages from Chelsea's hierarchy since their defeat on penalties to Manchester United in Moscow gave him no cause to start planning for the future.

No surprise - but still a startling example of what football has become at the sharp end. It may be madness but this is now the price on the ticket for some managers.

It is a sign of the cut-throat nature of the modern game that a decent, dignified man is sacked three days after missing out on club football's biggest honour by the width of a post and on the Premier League title on the last day of the season.

Chelsea will simply say - close but not close enough. Second is nowhere as far as billionaire owner Roman Abramovich is concerned and a man regarded as his friend has paid the price.

606: DEBATE

Grant took on one of the toughest tasks in football when he succeeded Jose Mourinho in September. He was a man in sharp contrast to the charismatic, endlessly quotable "Special One" who was the headline writers' dream and loved by every Chelsea fan.

The 53-year-old Israeli was perceived as dour and low-key, despite time revealing Grant's dry sense of humour and quiet decency in the face of almost daily questions about his future.

And yet he kept his head and kept Chelsea in the title race until the final afternoon, and achieved a feat beyond even the celebrated Mourinho when he defeated Liverpool to guide the club to their first Champions League final.

Grant's wife Tsofit was unforgiving towards the media before Chelsea's defeat in Russia, saying: "It was clear that we would mainly go out to beat the media, the guillotine people, bloodthirsty and hungry for raw flesh. That is how I see the media."

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich
Roman Abramovich has acted swiftly to sack Grant

But it was not the media who merely let the dust settle on the season before unceremoniously showing Grant the door. This honour goes to Abramovich, Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon and chairman Bruce Buck. They were the ultimate executioners in this gloves-off pursuit of glory.

Grant had moments when he deserved criticism. He badly mismanaged the Carling Cup final defeat against Spurs, and the substitution of Joe Cole after he scored two goals at Spurs was the catalyst for the concession of two important points.

He has been accused of many things, but no-one can seriously say a man who reached a Champions League final, a Carling Cup final and finished second in the league has done a bad job.

Grant has been ill-served by the carping of some of his players, and if Chelsea's hierarchy harboured any doubts - which they clearly didn't - about whether to keep him at Stamford Bridge, he was not well-served by his highest-profile signing during his time in charge.

He lavished 15m on Nicolas Anelka and yet all he got in return was a refusal to take one of the first five penalties in the Moscow shoot-out, followed up by an ill-timed attack on Grant's methods that applied a kick when he was down.

"It was clear that we would mainly go out to beat the media, the guillotine people, bloodthirsty and hungry for raw flesh.

Avram Grant's wife Tsofit

Grant had won over many Chelsea fans with his composure in the face of pressure, but there was always the lingering feeling that his lack of a "wow factor" and an understandable inability to shimmer stardust over the game in the manner of his flamboyant predecessor would count against him unless he could bring the big prizes to Stamford Bridge.

If it is any consolation, Grant leaves Stamford Bridge with his reputation as a person and a football man enhanced. It is a hard heart that does not feel a measure of sympathy for a man who is the latest victim of the relentless search for perfection.

Grant handled himself in a way that did him huge credit right up until his final moments in charge, when he received generous applause from the world's media following his Moscow press conference.

He will now go in search of another chance to prove his credentials - and he can leave Chelsea with his head held high.

In an ordinary world, Grant's efforts this season would have been more than enough to earn him another crack at leading Chelsea next season.

Sadly for Grant, football is no ordinary world, especially not at a club with one of the world's richest men at the helm, a man for whom second place is as bad finishing bottom of the pile.


see also
Grant sacked as Chelsea manager
24 May 08 |  Chelsea
Grant's Chelsea tenure in photos
24 May 08 |  Chelsea
Pat Nevin on Grant's departure
24 May 08 |  Hull City
Chelsea and Drogba set for talks
24 May 08 |  Chelsea
Grant can hold his head high
22 May 08 |  Europe
Grant gracious after title blow
11 May 08 |  Premier League
How the title was won
12 May 08 |  Premier League


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