Most Israelis were convinced that the furor following Avram Grant’s appointment as Chelsea manager in 2007 was down to antisemitism and dislike of Israel. Grant himself insisted that objections were for purely professional reasons, and the generally positive reactions to his appointment as manager of Portsmouth last week bear this out.
Grant has been welcomed back to the Premier League by the media, players and fans as if he were an old friend. He may not have been flattered by David James’s comparison with Yoda, and the way the papers ran pictures of Grant alongside the wise-old master from Star Wars to show the physical similarities, but there was a consensus that the Israeli could be the saviour that Pompey need.
When Grant was appointed at Chelsea, even his greatest admirers had expected that it would all end in tears for the former Israeli boss. It did, but not quite in the way even the most imaginative playwright could have scripted. The tears we will remember were those of John Terry, an iconic moment, as he cried in the arms of Grant in the Moscow rain after missing his penalty in the Champions League final shootout against Man United.
Even though Grant lost only five out of 55 games at Stamford Bridge, football is a cruel world, and he ended up being tagged a loser because he failed in the Carling Cup and Champions League finals, and lost the Premier League title to United on the last day of the season.
Sacked by his good friend Roman Abramovich three days after the defeat in Moscow, he left with his head held high. Remarkably too, the man who had been a figure of contempt, after being asked to follow the flamboyant, outspoken Jose Mourinho, also established himself as a respected celebrity, despite his monotonous drone, and hangdog demeanour.
The media are glad to have him back. Last Saturday at Fratton Park it was as if he had never been away. There was a drenched Grant again in the pouring rain looking glum after coming off second best to Sir Alex Ferguson in a game that once again hinged on penalties.
But the real business begins tomorrow when Portsmouth host Burnley. Nobody expected anything other than defeat against United. Anything short of three points against Burnley, and the media and the fans will begin to re-think the wisdom of appointing Grant.
Criticism of Grant will be harsh because the Israeli has set his own bar very high at Chelsea, still insisting that he is a top-four quality manager.
Many still believe that Grant got good results at Stamford Bridge, not because of his own managerial abilities, but because he let a group of players, led by John Terry, run the show.
Grant’s performance in the coming months as he attempts to save Pompey from relegation will finally provide an insight into whether he really has got what it takes to succeed in the Premier League. The Israeli certainly deserves another chance, and if he fails he is unlikely to get another.