Sunday 27 April ~
Chelsea may yet become the most unheralded champions ever. Man Utd, who were 1-50 on to be champions only a couple of weeks ago, are still favourites due to their better goal difference. Indeed if both teams win their remaining matches Chelsea will have cause to regret the caution that has characterised their approach for most of the season. But Man Utd's 2-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge yesterday has meant that the football press today had to do something they really don't like to do, which is praise Avram Grant.
Grant has only lost two League games, one of which was his first, away to Man Utd. He's also taking Chelsea as far as Jose Mourinho did in the Champions League. Yet he has been repeatedly targeted in the press as a dull nonentity who owes his job to friendship with Chelsea's owner. Grant complained about his negative press coverage earlier in the season and more recently has in effect worked to rule by giving monosyllabic answers at press conferences. The crux of the problem as far as the press in concerned is that Grant has no charisma and so doesn't give reporters anything to base a story on, aside from the simple fact that he doesn't want to co-operate with the press.
In any case no one knows exactly what Grant does at Chelsea, where coaching responsibilities are also handled by Henk Ten Cate, formerly the deputy to Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona, as well as long-term assistant Steve Clarke. Furthermore, unlike his predecessor, Grant is never going to make any grandiose claims for his abilities. Indeed it's reasonable to assume that Mourinho has been somewhat taken aback by Chelsea's recent run. Which might explain why he has allowed 'news' to leak out again this week that DIC have lined him up to become manager at Liverpool should they take over there, a story that has been in circulation for a while.
Of course the press are not going out on a limb in holding a low opinion of Grant. Chelsea fans have never taken to him either and have chorused their disapproval during matches recently. But if he wins one, or both, of the two major trophies that Chelsea are still competing for this season, we can assume that he does in fact know exactly what he's doing even if he can't, or won't, explain it in public.