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Thursday, 03 June 2010

West Ham United: Is Avram Grant the right man for the Hammers?


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It was one of football’s worst kept secrets but this morning (June 3) former Chelsea and Portsmouth boss Avram Grant was officially unveiled as the new manager of West Ham United.

The 55-year-old Israeli penned a four-year contract with the club, subject to a work permit, to replace Gianfranco Zola in the hot seat. But the big question is: Have David Gold and David Sullivan made the right appointment? West Ham United fan Steve Sage believes they could have appointed a lot worse.

“He’s certainly not the worst manager we could have brought in by any means. Apparently the shortlist for Zola’s replacement was Grant, Allardyce, Dave Jones and Ian Holloway. I don’t know if that’s true but if it is then Grant would have been my preference.

“He has a lot of experience and is spoken of very highly by most people who have worked with him. A lot of Chelsea lads seemed to like him. I think most people agree he made the best of a bad situation at Portsmouth. To get a team to the cup final with everything that was going on behind the scenes was a tremendous achievement.”

This sentiment is echoed by West Ham season ticket holder Matthew Beeby – although he doesn’t believe that Grant is as good as many pundits are making out.

“Given the other names that were supposedly on the shortlist I think he’s the pick of the bunch. I don’t really buy into the myth that he’s an amazing manager though – he inherited a Chelsea side that I could have taken to the Champions League final and with Portsmouth he may have had a lot of off-the-field distractions but they were hardly setting the world alight.

“He’s experienced and should avoid some of the mistakes that Zola made but he’s no Pardew. However, we’ve not had to pay for him so I guess that’s something.”

However, fellow Hammer Andrew Harding is excited about having Grant on board.

“Grant seems to be a bit of an enigma so as a new appointment I think the West Ham fans will welcome him just like they welcomed Zola. It’s like looking into the unknown – we know we shouldn’t but it’s exciting.

“The fact is that no-one knows if Grant is a genius of a buffoon. He landed the job at Chelsea unexpectedly and then took them to a Champions League final and was piped by Manchester United for the Premier League title.

“He has worked under the special one so he must have picked something up. All in all I think Grant is a plodder who doesn’t make rash decisions and fits West Ham’s remit very well and seeing as this is a Gold and Sullivan appointment it will be interesting to see how they spin it if it all goes tits up.”

The one special quality that Avram Grant has is spirit. He is a true fighter; the type of person that you would love to be in the trenches with as you know he will never give in, no matter what’s thrown at him. He was on borrowed time at Chelsea and it wouldn’t have mattered what he achieved at Stamford Bridge as Roman Abramovich was always going to give him the boot. However, despite all the turmoil off the pitch, Grant led Chelsea to the Champions League and Carling cup finals and lost out on winning the Premier League title by two points. And even with Portsmouth’s spiralling debts and transfer sanctions he managed to guide them to their second FA Cup final in three years against all the odds – although he was unable to keep them in the top flight.

Grant’s ability to keep focused on the job at hand in the face of adversity will be music to the ears of West Ham fans who have become increasingly frustrated with their owners mouthing off in the media and meddling in team affairs. But will his arrival inspire the fans and players? Steve Sage has his doubts.

“I don’t think his appointment is one that’s going to be particularly inspire the fans. He tends to come across as pretty dour and miserable in press conferences but from what I hear he’s not like that away from the cameras. The fans will give him a chance but he’ll need to win them over. He won’t get the same instant backing that an ex-player like a Bilic or a Di Canio would have got.”

And Matthew Beeby is curious as to how some of the fans will deal with Grant’s former Chelsea links.

“It will be interesting to see how some of the natives cope with having an ex-Chelsea man at the helm. There were some fans who would never accept Zola and Clarke because of their Stamford Bridge links so it will be interesting to see their reaction. The Upton Park fans seem to be becoming less and less patient so Grant may need a friendly early season fixture list to get them onside.

“Zola seemed popular with the players so it will be interesting to see if there is any backlash from them. Although I suspect quite a few of Zola’s players will be shipped out over the summer. Hopefully Grant will be able to teach Matthew Upson how to be a footballer again!”

Steve may have his doubts that Grant will be able to inspire the fans but he is confident that the Israeli’s man-management skills will galvanise the players.

“There’s no doubt that a lot of our squad underperformed last season so I’m hoping Grant will be able to bring out the best in them. He’ll need to bring in a few players and probably move a couple on. Hopefully Grant’s knowledge of world football will result in him making a few decent signings.”

The Hammers have recently been linked with moves for former Arsenal ace Thierry Henry and ex-England captain David Beckham but such talk is a real concern for Steve.

“Worryingly at the moment it seems like the two Davids are playing fantasy football and trying to choose players for him. The failure of Ljunberg and Dyer should teach them that it’s pretty risky bringing in aging players on massive wages.”

And Matthew Beeby agrees, insisting that West Ham should be looking at consistent performers not those who are permanently injured or in the twilight of their careers.

West Ham struggled terribly last season under Gianfranco Zola and were fortunate that Portsmouth, Burnley and Hull City were far worse than they were. So it came as no surprise to see the loveable Italian given the boot by the two Davids once the season ended. But both Matthew and Steve wouldn’t have been averse to giving Zola another season at the helm, although they both concede that a change was probably for the best.

However, Steve admits that Grant’s biggest challenge at West Ham is not going to be keeping the Hammers up but actually managing the chairmen.

“Sullivan in particular seems to find it impossible to keep his mouth shut. He repeatedly undermined Zola in the Press and I don’t want to see him do the same with Grant. He needs to be free to manage the team without interference and without a media circus around the club.”

While Matthew, who is fuming with the decision to let Franco leave on a free, believes anything higher than 17th will be a success for the new manager.

“Finishing above the bottom three is success again – anything else will be a bonus. I’d like to believe that given last season Grant will value the cups higher than some previous managers seem to have done and give them a real go. Other than that I’d just like a return to the feeling that going to Upton Park every other week is a fun experience rather than a chore like it was towards the end of the season.

“I think with a few astute signings we have the core of a team that should realistically be pushing the likes of Fulham, Birmingham, Sunderland and so on for mid table. I’ll stick my neck out now and say we will manage a top 12 finish.”

· Calling all West Ham United fans. What are your views on the arrival of Avram Grant as your new boss? Do you think he can bring the good times back to the Boleyn Ground? Do you think he has the stature to attract top class players to West Ham United? How optimistic are you of the campaign ahead? Whatever your view, I’d love to hear from you.

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Colin Illingworth

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