In a move that came as a surprise to nobody in football, Chelsea yesterday rewarded manager Avram Grant for getting them within a goalpost's width of their first European Cup by terminating his contract.
According to a statement released on the club's website Saturday afternoon, the Israeli coach, and sometime rodent disturber, was dismissed following a series of meetings over the past two days. Peter Kenyon prefigured the decision earlier in the week, when he declared that finishing second "is not something we've settled for". The widely anticipated move came just three days after the club lost the final to Manchester United on penalties.
For Grant, it caps a nine-month tenure in which he has seen initial disdain evolve into grudging respect from both Chelsea fans and neutrals alike. It was widely assumed back in September, when he was abruptly shuffled from his Director of Football position to the manager's seat following the acrimonious departure of Jose Mourinho, that Grant was merely a placeholder, warming the seat before a more accomplished figure could take charge. Yet a League Cup Final appearance, a close run against Manchester United for the Premier League title, combined with a Champions League semi-final victory against Liverpool - something his predecessor twice failed to achieve - won Blues supporters over to the taciturn Israeli's side. Neutrals, meanwhile, were impressed by Grant's garrulous ability to get on with the job in hand despite the Machiavellian atmosphere that permeated in the boardroom.
Ultimately, however, Chelsea ended 07/08 trophyless, a situation that was never going to go down well with a club whose hierarchy believes they are one of Europe's elite sides. Like Claudio Ranieri in 2004, Grant's good intentions and public support were irrelevant. Roman Abramovich demands success, and the cost of failure is high.
While Chelsea legends past and present have weighed in with their verdict on Grant's dismissal, possibly the most intriguing comments have come from The Special One himself. Out of work since he left west London last year, Jose Mourinho has been careful thus far to avoid passing comment on his successor's record, but in an interview with the Observer he branded Grant's footballing philosophy that of a "loser", declaring: "in football 'almost' means defeat and Chelsea almost won the Carling Cup, almost won the Champions League, and almost won the Premier League. Almost is nothing". The Portuguese has immediately been placed among the favourites for an unlikely Stamford Bridge return, along with heavyweight contenders such as Frank Rijkaard, Guus Hiddink, Roberto Mancini and, perhaps more improbably, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Mark Hughes.
Grant, meanwhile, can console himself with the fact that his stock has risen considerably in his time at the Bridge. That £5 million compensation package won't hurt too much either, and rumours have already surfaced of his next job, with Manchester City said to be very interested. Whether the former Israeli national coach will want to work for another capricious and unpredictable foreign owner is another matter.
Image courtesy of Free-ers' Flickrstream via the Creative Commons Attribution license