April 22, 2011

Final flourishes for bosses?

Posted by Jon Champion on 22/04/2011

Will Avram Grant be in charge at Upton Park next season? © Getty Images

Carlo Ancelotti and Avram Grant will occupy the dugouts for ESPN’s live Barclays Premier League fixture between Chelsea and West Ham this Saturday, but you would get long odds against them both being in charge of their respective clubs should they meet again next season.

Ancelotti gives the impression of being a man who already knows - or at the very least strongly suspects - his fate. He’s been down this path before. For Berlusconi in Milan read Abramovich at Chelsea. Both rich, powerful men who apparently like to have a say in the running of their teams. Both demand trophies, yet neither shows much inclination to be patient.

Strangely, Avram Grant probably enjoys a better relationship with the Russian oligarch than the current Chelsea manager. At the request of his friend, the Israeli picked up the pieces after Jose Mourinho’s abrupt departure in 2007 and guided the club to a treble of sorts. Runners-up in the Champions League, the Premier League and the League Cup with just six defeats in 54 matches – good enough for most clubs, but not enough to earn a second season in west London.

Off the back of his stint at Chelsea, Grant has landed jobs at Portsmouth and now West Ham, and in both roles he has been faced with adversity and animosity. He gives the impression of being a man with better connections than qualifications. His hang-dog look is more Clement Freud than Alex Ferguson.

Frustratingly for the Hammers he has shown himself capable of producing results in knockout football. Even now, with four league games left, he has more Cup victories to his credit this season than three-point wins. The humbling of Manchester United in a thrilling League Cup quarter-final will go down as one of the great Upton Park nights, yet all too often the Hammers’ vocal terrace yeomen have been let down by anaemic, listless performances.

Three months ago, Grant looked a goner having thrown his claret and blue scarf into the crowd after a hefty home defeat by Arsenal. Martin O’Neill’s arrival was meant to be imminent. The Israeli’s wave as he sloped down the tunnel was taken as a farewell. In fact it was anything but. The axe never fell and the club’s dalliance with O’Neill had fatally undermined a struggling manager.

Since then there have been suggestions of improvement followed by confirmations that not much has changed. If chairmen Sullivan and Gold had done the deed in January, maybe the club’s plight might have eased. As it is, West Ham now need to win three of their last five games, two of which are against Chelsea and Manchester City. There’s little evidence to suggest that Avram Grant does miracles. Scott Parker sometimes does, but he’s injured.

In fact given West Ham’s travails, this could finally be the week when Fernando Torres breaks his Chelsea duck: 725 minutes without a goal is bad news for a new striker that cost £50,000, let alone £50 million.

I remain to be convinced that Ancelotti really wanted him. The Italian’s body language at Torres’ introductory press conference reminded me of a child forced to say thank you for an undesired Christmas present, proffered by a grandparent with oodles of money but precious little insight into the workings of a young mind.

Ancelotti must have known that Torres’ arrival would unsettle his best players and require a new system to be implemented, but he is a coach not a manager. His job is to work with the players the club decides to buy.

He must feel like the curator of an art gallery that has bought a rare Picasso yet can find no room to display it because of all the other Old Masters already on the walls.


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