Avraham Grant sacked by Chelsea

Dismissal comes three days after penalty miss denied him top trophy in European club soccer.

avram grant 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
avram grant 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
With a ruthlessness dizzying even by the standards of modern professional soccer, Israeli coach Avraham Grant was sacked on Saturday by Chelsea, just three days after he had taken the team to within a penalty kick of winning the European Champions League, the most prized competition in European club football. Grant's dismissal culminates eight months of incessant rumor-mongering since he was surprisingly given the job last September by the club's billionaire Russian-Jewish owner, Roman Abramovich. Although Grant had coached Israel's national team and achieved considerable success in Israeli club soccer, many commentators and fans argued that he was woefully ill-equipped for the task of managing one of the most prestigious and richest clubs in the world. Dignified but dour in his months at the club, Grant, 53, went some way toward silencing those critics by bringing Chelsea to the brink of success in three competitions, but ultimately failed in them all. His side went down to Tottenham in the final of the Carling Cup in February. Then, although Chelsea was in contention until the very last day of the season, it narrowly lost out to Manchester United in England's Premier League. And finally, on Wednesday night in the pouring rain of Moscow, Grant's team was second-best to Manchester United again, losing out on penalties, 6-5, in the Champions League final. Chelsea had been the better side for much of Wednesday's match, hitting the post and the crossbar in attacks that could have decided the game. The team nosed ahead when the game went to penalties, and captain John Terry only had to score to secure the title. But Terry slipped on the rain-drenched turf and put his shot wide. And when Nicolas Anelka, Grant's most expensive signing, subsequently missed his penalty, Manchester United had triumphed. Some of the defining images of what has now proved Grant's brief tenure at Chelsea saw the coach hugging and comforting the tearful Terry in the rain on the pitch after the bitter defeat, with his suit jacket and hair turning sodden, before the players went to receive their losers' medals. Grant threw his own medal into the crowd of Chelsea supporters - supporters who had never really taken him to their hearts, who missed their previous, charismatic manager Jose Mourinho, and who doubted that Grant was doing more than merely stewarding the collection of world-class players Mourinho had assembled and led to a series of English domestic successes. Grant would undoubtedly have known that his job was hanging by a thread, and that it would be severed by Abramovich if he could not deliver the Champions League. In the semi-final, played on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Grant sank to his knees in an apparent prayer of gratitude after Chelsea defeated Liverpool to reach the final. The coach was reported to have taken his leave of the Chelsea players earlier this weekend, while the details of his contract termination were finalized. The blow of his dismissal will be thoroughly cushioned by a pay-off reported on Saturday night to be in the region of $10 million. Grant is also said to be confident that his relative success at Chelsea will provoke a stream of new job offers. Abramovich is reported to have been "embarrassed" by Chelsea's failure in his home capital of Moscow, and moved swiftly to dispense with Grant even though the two were said to be friends. Still, while the Russian oligarch may be ruthless in his choice, and retention, of managers, there is no shortage of would-be successors to Grant. The former Barcelona manager Frank Rijkaard, Inter Milan's Roberto Mancini and the national team coach of Russia, Guus Hiddink, are all said to be possible candidates. Most intriguingly, the man who Grant succeeded at Chelsea, the Abramovich-ousted Mourinho, may also be back in the frame. Abramovich reportedly gave Mourinho a $4m.-plus present of a limited edition Ferrari sports car in February, at the time of the Carling Cup defeat. Mourinho, out of work since being dismissed by Chelsea, is reported to be close to taking a job in Italy. But there is some speculation that he could yet be persuaded to change his mind. In an interview that appeared only hours before Grant's dismissal, Mourinho essentially depicted Grant as "a loser." Told by The Observer that Grant felt he had overseen a good season at Chelsea - taking the side to a Champions League final, which Mourinho never managed - Mourinho responded that he considered Chelsea's year to have been "a very bad one because in football 'almost' means defeat and Chelsea almost won the Carling Cup, almost won the Champions League and almost won the Premier League. Almost is nothing." "After two titles per season for the last three years," Mourinho went on, referring to his period in charge, "there were zero titles this season, which in my philosophy means a really bad season. Maybe in the philosophy of a loser this was a great season, which I respect." Grant was also attacked by Anelka, who missed the last penalty on Wednesday and blamed the coach for sending him into the game as a late substitute without enough time to warm up properly. "I was on the bench for 110 minutes and suddenly I am asked to play, not even a minute after I was sent out to warm up," Anelka complained. For his part, Grant was making no immediate comment, possibly as part of the terms of his financial settlement. His departure, however, made more of the huge headlines that Grant has attracted throughout this extraordinary saga. The story led the news on British radio and TV stations. Sky News predicted that "a bigger name and a bigger personality" would take his place - an observation that left unanswered the question that has hovered over Grant's entire tenure at Chelsea: Why did Abramovich appoint him in the first place?