The Last Word: The intrigue surrounding Grant's Pompey move

The Last Word The intri

By JEREMY LAST
October 9, 2009 02:19
3 minute read.

 
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Fifteen months is a long time to be out of a job, especially if you are an internationally-renowned soccer coach who came within a missed penalty kick of winning the biggest club competition in the world. Luckily for him, former Chelsea coach Avraham Grant avoided visiting his local Petah Tikva unemployment office after receiving enough of a payoff by club owner Roman Abramovich to allow him to survive while he scoured the world for a new position But the fact that it took him just under a year-and-a-half to find work raises immediate questions about the new Portsmouth FC director of football's management skills. It's not like our "Avram" hadn't been trying to find new employment. From Manchester City to the the Polish national team, more than 20 potential employers were reported to have been interested in securing the services of the former Israel coach since he was unceremoniously booted out of Chelsea in May 2008. The Israeli sports media was full of reports that the 54-year-old was in the running nearly every time a job came up in the English Premier League or on the international stage. And on each occasion he was quickly ruled out, continuously extending his time "between jobs". Finally Grant has found success, and a route back to the English Premier League he loves so much. Only this time it feels like a step backwards, mostly because he is returning to the exact same job he had three years ago. Grant's rise through the ranks of English soccer was nearly as rapid as his fall from grace, and at the time his ability to perform at the highest level was constantly questioned by an unforgiving British press. Even when he led Chelsea to the 2008 Champions League final few analysts gave him any credit. At the time I was blown away by Grant's humility, his staying power and more than anything the way he appeared to bring stability to a club which had been in turmoil when Jose Mourinho walked out in September 2007. However that so many teams are reported to have decided against offering him a contract since he left Chelsea, including the Ghana national team, Croatia's Hajduk Split and the Czech national team, has forced a rethink. In England there has been little doubt in the minds of many journalists that Grant's was nothing but a political appointment, even linking it with his Jewish connections. Clearly Grant was close with Abramovich well before he began working at Chelsea, and Alexandre Gaydamak, the former owner of Portsmouth, is also Jewish. When he worked at Portsmouth in 2006/07 then-coach Harry Redknapp is believed not to have totally understood what the Israeli was doing at the club. "Grant was often marginalized during his first spell at Portsmouth by Redknapp, who soon realized that the Israeli was there to get used to English football and improve his contacts book before moving on to Chelsea," Nick Szczepanik wrote in The Times of London on Thursday. And it has been claimed that it was Chelsea assistant coach Steve Clarke, not Grant, who was mainly responsible for the team's success on the field. In an interview with Chelsea TV broadcast in Israel recently, midfielder Frank Lampard talked more about the way the team pulled together and how "Clarkey" helped bring stability, than about Grant's influence. All this makes the decision to put Grant in charge of Portsmouth all the more confusing. So what is this appointment all about? And how will Grant get on with Portsmouth's new owner, Saudi Arabian businessman Ali al-Faraj. On Wednesday Portsmouth chief executive Peter Storie was quick to stress that club coach Paul Hart's job is not under threat. But it would be no surprise if Grant is soon announced as Hart's successor, even if the team goes on a winning streak as long as the seven-match losing run which started the season. The role of a "director of football" or "technical director" is totally ambiguous and more often than not is just a stepping stone to taking the reins. For most Israelis the idea of working for a Saudi would not exactly be an inviting prospect. But Grant is one of the smoothest operators in the game, and he never would have taken the job if he didn't think he could form a good relationship with his new employer. There are so many questions hanging over Grant's shock appointment, including how he will deal with Israeli center back Tal Ben-Haim who he dropped from the Chelsea team. But it won't be long till we get some answers. Grant will come face-to-face with Redknapp next weekend when Pompey hosts Tottenham Hotspur at Fratton Park. Whether he brings success or failure, the coming weeks will be some of the most intriguing for those following the topsy turvy career of one of the most captivating characters in Israeli sports. jeremy@jpost.com

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