19 October 2009 ~ It will be interesting to see how Avram Grant’s return to Fratton Park as director of football unfolds over the next few weeks. Portsmouth’s new major shareholder, Ali Al Faraj, has been quoted as commending current manager Paul Hart for doing a good job; Al Faraj added that he wants a period of stability to allow the club to improve from a record poor start to the season. Despite this reassurance, it’s hard to believe that Hart, who has been putting on a brave face for the media, doesn’t have a little voice in his head saying “watch out”.
As the Independent reminded everybody last week, when Grant left Chelsea he was offered a return to his role as director of football at Stamford Bridge, but declined because his ambitions were managerial. The question for Hart is whether or not he can succeed where Jose Mourinho failed and see off the challenge of Grant, of whom Roman Abramovich had been a admirer for his work with the Israeli national side.
But there is another perspective on Grant's appointment gained from the recent judgment on Kevin Keegan’s claim for unfair dismissal by Newcastle. His former employers had adopted what they called a “continental model” with Dennis Wise as director of football and Tony Jimenez as vice president (player recruitment).
At the heart of Keegan’s case was the question of who had the final say in transfer matters: that it had to be the manager was, the tribunal heard, KK’s “golden rule”. Leaving on one side what Newcastle United said to the public about Keegan’s position, what is clear in the judgment is that nobody knew exactly who had the final say and the way things would work. The tribunal judgment says there was “a lack of clarity, indeed confusion” on that issue, with witnesses giving conflicting testimony.
Keegan’s contract said that his duties were those “usually associated with the position of a manager in a Premier League Football club”, including “training, coaching selection and motivation of the team”. Premier League rules describe the manager as a club official “responsible for selecting the club’s first team”.
So how does all this play out for Hart, Grant and Portsmouth? Peter Storrie, Pompey’s chief executive, says that Grant will help and advise Hart, “giving us two experienced people at the club” and Hart will have “the final say on team selection”. Drawing a distinction between directors of football involved in player recruitment and those on the technical side, he went on to say that Grant will be on the technical side.
So far so good, except Hart told the Sun last Thursday: “I’m the manager; I pick the team, coach and all that. [Grant] might be at the training ground but training is not his role.” And Storrie, when he introduced Grant’s appointment, said that his brief was the same as his last spell at Fratton Park. David James, welcoming Grant’s return, observed that in his last spell he had played a prominent role in preparation for matches. So, no ambiguity there.
It’s a little better on the recruitment front, but by no means clear. Storrie explained that player recruitment will be a “four way thing” involving himself, Grant, Hart and chief scout Ray Clarke. But he gave no hint about how decisions might be taken or whether Hart would have any veto over signings where he disapproved. Neither did he wade into the deep waters of the distinction made in the Keegan judgment about “commercial deals” that might be done for other than football reasons.
There can’t be many people who don’t hope for the best for Paul Hart, who from the outside at least seems like a decent bloke. But there’s plenty of room for pessimism and not a little confusion. Brian Simpson