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Stabroek News

ON THE BOUNDARY - Life at the top can be very lonely
published: Tuesday | May 27, 2008

Tony Becca

Football is arguably the biggest sport in the world. Apart from the players, the ones who are paid millions of dollars to parade their skills and to win titles, the manager, the man who calls all the shots - or most of them, the man who selects the team is the biggest man in the game.

Or so he believes.

Biggest man

In the professional game, the biggest man in the game is the man who owns the teams. He is the one who decides who is the manager, he is the one who hires the manager, and he is the one who fires the manager.

A manager's job, like that of Avram Grant, up to Saturday the manager of Chelsea, depends on an owner like Chelsea's Roman Abramovich - and based on what happened to Grant a few days ago, it matters not how successful he has been.

Grant took over at Chelsea from Jose Mourinho during the last season after Chelsea were in fifth position in the Premier League after nine matches or so.

After leading Chelsea to the final of the Carling Cup, to second place, by two points, in the Premier League, and to the final of the Champions League where they lost on penalty kicks after being in a wonderful position to win, Grant is now at home in Israel without a job and twiddling his thumbs.

According to the Chelsea CEO, their chairman, and obviously also their owner, Chelsea, according to Mourinho, despite their so many second-place finishes, despite their 'fantastic' performance in the Champions League, Chelsea were disappointing and Grant was a failure.

According to Chelsea hierarchy, "Chelsea have very high expectations, Chelsea are here to win trophies, second places finishes are not good enough ... and although we never would have thought when Mourinho left that we would be able to make it into a Champions League final, although it was an excellent season, we are still disappointed."

Big four

So why, if it was an excellent season, did Chelsea fire Grant?

Chelsea are numbered among the big four in England, they want to win all the time, they want a charismatic coach to match their image, and the poker-faced Israeli, the man who Mourinho has called a loser, was not a Mourinho - the man who as good as he was in leading Chelsea to the Premier League in title 2004/5 and 2005/6 was fired the first time he stumbled.

While Mourinho was a confident and dashing coach who talked a lot and who was loved by the media, Grant was quiet, he hardly ever smiled, he looked, all the time, like the world was on his shoulders, and the media paid him little attention.

It was obvious that Grant was at Chelsea only until they found someone with the personality to fit the Chelsea reputation - either that or as long as he won trophies.

Chelsea did not win anything this last season, and for a club like Chelsea - and especially the Chelsea of recent years, that must be disappointing.

The fact, however, is that in reaching the final of the Carling Cup before losing to Tottenham Hotspurs, in going into the last round of the Premier League tied at the top before losing by two points to Manchester United, and especially that it was a surprise to the Chelsea management.

Good record

In reaching the final of the European Champions League before losing to Manchester United on penalty kicks, Chelsea's record was quite good. In fact, there are many teams in England and in Europe who would give their last dollar for a record like Chelsea this last season.

Chelsea must have been the envy of the majority of teams in England and of many around Europe. Regardless of their ambitions, regardless of their high standards, and although he lacked a winning personality, it is strange that the man who signed a four-year contract in December, that the man who, after the great Mourinho was fired following the team's poor start, carried them to three second-places in three close and exciting battles, was unceremoniously fired.

What makes it even more interesting is that had Chelsea won the Champions League, Grant may not have been fired. Chelsea may well have won it had Nicolas Anelka not refused to take one of the first five penalties, they certainly would have won it had captain John Terry converted his penalty, and today Grant is out and both Anelka and Terry are still in.

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