Grant insists players are united behind new regime
Avram Grant last night insisted the Chelsea players were behind him, having shown their support in deed and word. He then tested that fealty by claiming he needed to "change 20-25 per cent" of Jose Mourinho's work to deliver the results and style Roman Abramovich demanded.
Grant takes charge of his second match tonight, a tricky trip to Hull, of the Championship, in the Carling Cup. It is the type of fixture in which big clubs need their players to match the home team's commitment before they can bring their superior ability to bear. Any dissent within the ranks, lack of desire or disenchantment with the management, is likely to be exposed. Mourinho's Chelsea would face down their inferior opponents, then cruise into the next round. In nine domestic cup matches against Football League opposition they won eight and drew one. In light of his abrupt departure, and tales of dressing-room unrest, Grant's team appear vulnerable.
The Israeli, however, was in bullish mood. He knows the viability of his reign will depend on results. Should he start winning, and do so in style, what he described as "the other problems" will be forgotten.
"I don't think anyone is happy at what happened but it did, and this is football, it is not the first time," he said. "We need to adapt as soon as possible. I think all of us, the players and the management, have done that and we are looking forward to improving our quality of football. That is our goal. I'm not naive. It is not an ideal time to take the team, but I believe in this job. I believe in the club. I believe in the players. I do not doubt their loyalty for the club. They are sensitive but professional also. I like this combination."
The "sensitive" comment may be referring to their fondness for Mourinho, for he added: "After three-and-a-half years under Jose, I would be worried if they don't have a good relationship with him. The past is important to all of us, we need to be sensitive to the situation. But I said to the players, 'at the end of the day we need to play, we need to be professional on the pitch'.
"I think I have the backing of the players. They speak with me very well, but you can also see from the way they react. If I can judge by their actions everything is OK. The players who played against Manchester United showed their attitude was at a high level. The injured players try very well to get back. They all want to play. Didier [Drogba] started training on Monday, one week before we expected, Ricardo Carvalho started training today and Frank Lampard is doing very well. I expect to see them in the team soon. I know some will not be happy because I know it cannot be 100 per cent happiness. When you have 25 players in the squad it sometimes happens that one or two are not happy."
True enough. As Jock Stein once said: "The secret of good management is keeping the players who hate you away from the ones who are not sure".
Grant spoke much sense yesterday, but in such ponderous fashion it can be assured the delay over changing his contract status to that of manager is not about image rights.
If there was one similarity to Mourinho it was in his continuing to lambast Mike Dean, whose decision to dismiss John Obi Mikel at Old Trafford on Sunday was yesterday upheld. The Nigerian misses tonight's tie – Steve Sidwell is likely to replace him – and the Premier League games against Fulham and Bolton Wanderers. John Terry will not be penalised for apparently grabbing the red card as Dean prepared to show it to Mikel, but Chelsea may be fined for "failing to control their players" after Dean was surrounded as he made the decision.
"I am very disappointed and surprised," said Grant. "One of the things I teach my players and even my children is that when you make a mistake you can admit it. The referee affected the result with three bad decisions. He made three mistakes – one of them he could correct and he didn't do it."
That was straight from the Mourinho lyric sheet. The latter is likely to be less pleased at Grant's assessment of the season so far, an assessment, Mourinho is bound to wonder, that may have been whispered into the open ear of Abramovich.
"This season we did not play so well, except one game which was fantastic against Birmingham and 20 minutes against Reading. We did not score enough goals. We need many things to improve.
"The main problem is scoring goals, the other problems will maybe be forgotten with time. We have scored two goals in five games. The only thing I can do is to give ideas to the players and to train on the pitch to make it better. They have the quality, they have not shown it so far. The base is good, maybe it is time to change 20-25 per cent to give other ideas to the squad about the style of football.
"The club can still win all the titles; we are three points behind Manchester United, five from Arsenal. If we win games everything can happen."
And so to Humberside, where the Tigers will dream of paraphrasing the Housemartins' album title: Hull 4 London 0. There to meet them will be Jay-Jay Okocha who had these words of welcome: "Mourinho's departure was crazy when you look at his record there. I don't think they will look forward to coming to a place like Hull – some of their players will not even know where it is."