Spare a thought for Avram Grant on Yom Kippur. Never before has a Premier League manager been placed in such a cruel lose-lose predicament. The West Ham manager would have been damned if he stood on the touchline at Stoke on Saturday and will undoubtedly be damned if he didn’t.
Grant has always observed Yom Kippur and as West Ham confirmed yesterday, he will not be at the Britannia Stadium for the club’s crucial encounter, which the Hammers go into bottom of the Premier League with no points from four games.
Grant does not come from a religious background. When I interviewed his late father Meir Granat, he expressed surprise that his son observes Yom Kippur. “I never fast on Yom Kippur. I’ve fasted enough in my life,” Granat said referring to the fact that his entire family starved to death in Russia after escaping eastwards from Nazi-occupied Poland.
From a purely sporting perspective, aware that he is the bookie’s favourite to be the first Premier League boss sacked this term, Grant must have been tempted to overlook Yom Kippur and be in the dugout. Last Sunday, he said, “The team will be ready 100 per cent for the game. Whether or not I attend is a private matter. I’ll need to speak with the owners.”
David Gold, West Ham’s Jewish co-chairman spoke ambiguously to the “Daily Mirror. He said: "Religion is a very personal thing and, much as I would like Avram to be at every game, I would respect his decision. If my grandparents were still alive, they would not have gone to a match on Yom Kippur. Personally, I believe it is possible to fulfill both your religious obligations and your work obligations, but it's not so easy to do both if you are absolutely devout.”
Grant decision has already been strongly criticised by West Ham supporters on club blogs and forums. Many Jews would have seen Grant’s presence at the game as unforgivable. Many among the Upton Park fans and the media, where Grant’s stock is already low, will not understand his decision to stay away.
ESPN reporter Kevin Palmer set the unsympathetic tone when he wrote, “News that he (Grant) is set to miss next weekend's game at Stoke as he prepares to observe the Jewish festival of Yom Kippur confirms his commitment to his religion runs deep and he has always placed that devotion above sporting ambitions.”
The extension of this logic is that any organisation might think twice before taking on a Jew in a senior executive role because religious devotion might interfere with career ambitions.
Grant is also aware that following his decision to stay away, he will be in an additional lose-lose bind. If West Ham lose, he will take the blame but if they win, many will suggest that he is superfluous. Grant’s critics will argue that he is in a mess of his own making because he has failed to take points in West Ham’s first four fixtures.