Riise offers Grant a short reprieve from the media’s glare

April 23, 2008

Chelsea’s 1-1 Champions League draw at Liverpool on Tuesday was all about Avram Grant getting a reprieve from the hacks who only days earlier said his time under Roman Abramovich was almost up.

No question that Chelsea were poorer on the night. Liverpool should have had one or two more goals in reserve for the return leg at Stamford Bridge before John Arne Riise’s injury time own goal gave the Blues a huge boost. It also lifted the pressure from Grant for now, at least.

If he makes it to the final in Moscow, Grant will have surpassed Jose Mourinho’s efforts with Chelsea in the competition, but will the press notice? Probably not. Grant’s supporters complain that after more than half a year in the job, Mourinho is still getting the credit for his successor’s achievements.

There can be no doubt that former Israel coach Grant has adequate coaching abilities even if some of his critics point to the fact that before the Chelsea hot seat he was never tested at such a high level.

Like many Israelis who regard him as an ambassador of the Jewish state and its soccer, Grant undoubtedly feels that because he is an outsider from a small nation of modest sporting achievements, he will never gain the respect he deserves.

How frustrating it must be when you appear from nowhere, do so much better than anyone imagined, you are still in the running for silverware at the end of the season, and yet you are told most mornings that the axe is about to fall on your head.

Much boils down to Grant’s inability to keep the jounalists on-side and because this rather grey character stepped right into the shoes of Mourinho, their darling.

Back home, his detractors said he used an agreeable manner to befriend reporters and neutralise them as critics. They also said he relied more on luck than on coaching ability – Riise is a new bit of ammo for them. But Grant’s supporters said that his style, which was more to be the players’ friend and rely less on discipline, was a formula guaranteed to succeed.

Talk from the dressing room certainly suggested that Israeli players liked working with Grant. He also appeared to usually find favour with the heads of the Israeli FA, but the bottom line was that he was delivering results.

Many Israelis take it almost personally when something bad is said or written about Grant in the UK. Certainly, in view of his good results, they feel he does not deserve the frosty reception he gets in some of the British media.

But Israelis and perhaps Grant himself have not fathomed the difference between the relatively small number of Israeli reporters, who for the most part are more forgiving, and the school of British sharks who are far less willing to compromise in the cut-throat U.K. media marketplace.

Ori Lewis is a Reuters correspondent based in Jerusalem

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