As Chelsea prepare to face Arsenal on Sunday in a match that will have a vital bearing on who will win this season’s title, the JC can reveal that manager Avram Grant will still be charge at the start of the 2008/09 season, regardless of whether he wins silverware this campaign.
As the Israeli boss completes his first six months in charge at Stamford Bridge, he has confided in friends in Israel that he has no fears of being sacked if Chelsea end the season with an empty trophy cabinet. A source close to Grant in Israel told JC Sport: “Avram and (Roman) Abramovich have deepened their respect for each other and are working intensively together to reshape the squad in the summer.
Abramovich was angry about the cup defeats to Spurs and Barnsley and will be bitterly disappointed if Chelsea fail to win the league or at least reach the Champions League final in Moscow. But Abramovich has told Avram that he is more than satisfied with the team’s Premier League results since he took over in September.”
Prior to this week’s league game against Spurs, Grant’s only league defeats have come against title rivals Manchester United in September, just days after taking charge from Jose Mourinho, and Arsenal in December. The Israeli has won 16 Premier League matches and drawn five.
Moreover, Grant’s Chelsea have twice scored six goals, a feat never achieved by his predecessor in three seasons at the helm. “Avram is more concerned about how things will look on Yom Kippur,” the source added. “That will be exactly one year since he took over and it could be his day of judgment. Abramovich is taking a hands-on role in choosing potential players and discussing new directions but it will be down to Avram to integrate the changes.”
The source added that if Chelsea start the 2008/09 campaign badly, having not won anything this season, then Avram fears that with the fans failing to warm to him and the media baying for his blood, Abramovich, despite his very close friendship with the Israeli, may have no choice but to sack him.
For this reason Grant is desperate to do well in the remaining two months of the season because it will buy him more time next season. Grant said: “The belief was here maybe from the second week I arrived. We have shown there is a reason why we can believe in this. We believe, even if sometimes we lose games.” The claims were supported by Chelsea chief executive Phil Kenyon, who said: “We appointed Avram on a four-year contract back in September. His job was never contingent on silverware this year. It’s about Chelsea moving on and continuing to build on what’s been achieved over the last three years. The season’s not over yet.”
While Grant and Abramovich have decided whom to offload in the summer – Israel defender Tal Ben Haim along with Claudio Pizarro, Steve Sidwell and, most significantly, Andriy Shevchenko – they are less certain who to sign in their quest to make Chelsea the world’s most attractive team. Croatian midfielder Luka Modric is expected to be brought in from Dinamo Zagreb but both Grant and Abramovich have reservations about Barcelona’s Ronaldinho amid concerns about the fading ability of the Brazilian ace.
Grant is also aware that should he fail to land silverware this season, Abramovich is likely to reinstall him as Director of Football. But the Israeli is a hands-on coach and believes that if he ever parts company with the Blues he already has a good enough Premier League record to attract offers from top English clubs.
Looking ahead to Sunday’s game against Arsenal, Grant commented: “I am positive and very optimistic by nature, and if I did not believe in my own ability I would not be in football. Do I think that people have underestimated us? I think ‘yes’ in many ways. We are near the end of the season and we are in a good position.”
Victory over a stuttering Gunners team will only enhance his impressive league record, while anything less will revive the doubts about the Israeli’s leadership skills and ability to outmanoeuvre big-four opposition. On Tuesday Chelsea denied that Grant had received another death threat. A package had been sent to the Cobham training ground on February 19, but the club issued a statement after a story in The Sun claimed a second incident had taken place. It said that the reports were “totally incorrect”.