Grant faces Israeli criticism over match on memorial day
Avram Grant's satisfaction at steering Chelsea to the semi-finals of the Champions League was tempered yesterday by the realisation that the fixture calendar has placed him in an invidious position.
The second-leg tie against Liverpool, which is to be played at Stamford Bridge on 30 April, clashes with the eve of Yom Hashoah, Israel's Holocaust memorial day. Ordinarily Grant, the son of a Holocaust survivor, and grandson of Holocaust victims, would expect to observe the day which begins at sundown the night before.
Chelsea said yesterday they were aware of the situation, that it was a personal issue for Grant, and they would support him whatever decision he made. Early indications are that he will be in the technical area, as usual.
Such a choice is sure to bring forth condemnation in Israel where all forms of public entertainment are banned. Chelsea's match will not be televised for this reason. However, the situation is not as clear-cut outside Israel.
When Yom Hashoah falls on a Friday, as it does this year, observance within Israel is brought forward a day (to Thursday). But in the Jewish Diaspora observance generally remains on the Friday. Grant is understood to have reasoned that since he is outside Israel he can work. Moreover, Yom Hashoah, while an important day in the Jewish year, is not as significant as Yom Kippur when Israel effectively closes; at Yom Hashoah shops remain open and many people work.
None of this will cut much ice with Grant's critics in Israel. It might be thought his attaining such a prominent position in football, and making a decent fist of it, would be a source of pride but Grant has made so many enemies during his rise, especially in the media, that such a view remains a minority one.
This may change should Grant lead Chelsea to Champions League victory. One factor which may help him do so is the form of Michael Ballack who is finally justifying his extravagant salary and reputation. Ballack played in the 2002 final, losing to Real Madrid, and the 31-year-old German midfielder is desperate to make the step up to lifting the European Cup.
"For the club and for me it would be fantastic if we can win this title. This is why I am here. I want to win this competition," Ballack said in the wake of the quarter-final victory over Fenerbahce.
It was hardly the most convincing of performances – with team-mate Ashley Cole calling it a "bad one" – but as Ballack said: "In 10 years, in 20 years when you look back people remember the trophies you win."
It has taken time for Ballack to be accepted at Chelsea, so it was a surprise to hear the Chelsea supporters chant his name when the team was awarded a free-kick just outside the Fenerbahce area.
But the fans recognise that Ballack is the man who could create and score vital goals. "That is why I am here," he said. "I did this in Germany and for the national team as well, and I want to do the same for Chelsea."
One major concern for Chelsea that could affect confidence is the injuries to their goalkeepers, Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini. The club maintains Cech could return in a fortnight after the horrific cuts he received to his face, but the prognosis for Cudicini, who damaged a hamstring mid-way through the game, is not so good. It means Chelsea will have to make do, for now, with third-choice Hilario, and 18-year-old youth goalkeeper Rhys Taylor on the bench.