Saturday 1 November 2014

Return of Grant would leave Chelsea with their very own Three Stooges

Published 04/12/2012 | 05:00

JUST when the affairs of Chelsea Football Club appear to have moved beyond parody, reports emerge that Avram Grant may reappear as a cool and steadying influence.

It has been briskly denied, but then who can really say what next is about to fly over the cuckoo's nest?

Imagine it, Rafa and Avram and Roman – football's answer not to the Three Musketeers but the Three Stooges.

No doubt, this is extremely hard on Rafael Benitez, who alone among the bizarre triumvirate has a body of work behind him strong enough to survive in some viable form even a fleeting association with what may lightly be described as the management structure at Stamford Bridge. But then he cannot claim to have enrolled in the circus unaware of its worst possibilities.

Grant was installed as a director of football in the first destabilising of Jose Mourinho and the idea of his becoming a nursemaid for the already seriously ailing regime of Benitez is scarcely guaranteed to raise an eyebrow.

Reports that Andrei Shevchenko, who was also imposed disastrously on Mourinho, has been seen around the Surrey training headquarters might also stimulate speculation about a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks before he acquires his first badge.

Confident

What is known is that Grant, despite all his misadventures since his unlikely arrival in command of a Champions League final blighted by John Terry's missed penalty, remains a football confidant of the oligarch.

Any suggestion that he might now be reimmersed in the Chelsea stew sounds ultimately weird only if you detach it from the club's behaviour over recent weeks.

The firing of Roberto Di Matteo, the imposition of Benitez and his heavy-handed style, and the Clattenburg fiasco have certainly not discouraged the belief that the club are capable of just about any divergence from the realities of the football world.

That Benitez is already imperilled would be something impossible to avoid, even without the orchestrated hostility you could be excused for thinking he is hell-bent on fuelling.

His tirade at West Ham, against a team which in other hands so recently won the Champions League and the FA Cup at the end of a season marked by unbridled chaos, seemed as perilous as playing Russian roulette with a full chamber of bullets.

No, you cannot sack a man after three matches but Benitez is threatening the belief, certainly given the culture of a club he has parachuted into with rather more pride than the necessary phlegm.

After an impressive 45 minutes at Upton Park, Chelsea lapsed into a performance that Benitez said was lacking in confidence, character and leadership.

In all the circumstances, it was surely something to think rather than say.

Undoubtedly, the expression of it could have done nothing to weaken Abramovich's so far unrequited passion for the services of Pep Guardiola. Correspondingly, if the most desired of football exiles is following Chelsea affairs from his Manhattan retreat – and has thought about joining Chelsea for more than the proverbial New York minute – his list of demands must be lengthening by the day.

Perspective

One interesting perspective on that old catastrophe has been provided by the man who has most benefited from the kind of long-term support denied to each one of Abramovich's managers.

Alex Ferguson supplied it when he said, with minimal prompting, that he could easily see the Special One marching into his shoes at Old Trafford. "He can manage anywhere," said the man who shortly before his 71st birthday is once again bestriding the Premier League.

That would be the final rebuke for the methods of Abramovich, Mourinho going to the club that proclaims, year after year, that one fact about football success is quite immutable. It is the installation of a natural-born winner underpinned by the knowledge that in all football matters he will have the last word.

Ferguson talks of Mourinho's greed for success, the power of his personality and a nerve which, extraordinarily in a man who never played a single match as a fully fledged professional, is unlikely ever to be surpassed. Such assets were in the possession of Abramovich.

They were his reward for recognising the strength of Mourinho's impact at Porto and yet so quickly they were pushed to one side.

It is something with which to balance our incredulity at the straight-faced suggestion that Grant might again intrude into the affairs of Chelsea. It might not happen, we are assured, but the fact is that we wouldn't be at all surprised if it did. That is where Chelsea have placed themselves, beyond parody, beyond reason. It leaves the rest of us awaiting the next bad joke. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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