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Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007

PREMIER REPORT

Grant's Chelsea future hangs on whim of meddling board


LONDON — WANTED: Manager. Or maybe only a head coach.

Christopher Davies

QUALITIES: Must be able to win the Champions League twice in 10 years playing Hollywood football.

SALARY: Huge.

JOB DESCRIPTION: Should be able to put up with a little interference from above, such as the owner buying over-the-hill players you don't really want and going into the dressing-room.

CLUB STATUS: The richest in the world. Also the most disliked in England with enemies within all the domestic and European football authorities.

CHELSEA insists Avram Grant is manager for the foreseeable future. Mind you, the Blues also said Claudio Ranieri and Jose Mourinho were safe shortly before the previous two Stamford Bridge managers departed.

Comical Ali had more credibility.

Money can buy you many things but not respect. There are certainly many worse jobs than being manager of Chelsea but within the sport there are also many more pleasurable ones.

The parting of the ways with Mourinho has left Chelsea in meltdown despite Wednesday's 2-1 Champions League victory in Valencia. The club had little option than to appoint a manager who neither the fans nor, it appears, the players are particularly in favor of despite public support from the latter.

There is some sympathy for Grant in this respect — you can't blame him for taking the job and Mourinho's successor was always going to have the hardest of acts to follow. But sympathy ends when you realize he is earning over £2 million ($4 million) a year. Try getting compassion from nurses for a man in the firing line who would walk away with a very generous pay-off in the worst case scenario.

Chelsea would only want one of the world's best managers to lead the club yet the planet's finest may not think Stamford Bridge provides the best working environment. True, the salary would be £3 million or maybe even £4 million a year but the best managers in football would already be on a contract which reflects their status. After tax, the difference between three or four million pounds is significantly less than a million and may not be the consideration non-millionaires imagine.

Guus Hiddink (the Russia coach remains the favorite for Chelsea), Marco van Basten, Marcello Lippi or Jurgen Klinsmann would be as much concerned about how he could manage Chelsea as the salary involved and the Blues are receiving such bad publicity it is something of a poisoned chalice.

The supporters see the board and owner Roman Abramovich as the villains with Mourinho the fall guy. The perception is usually the reality whatever the rights and wrongs, and the general feeling among the Stamford Bridge faithful is that they want their club back.

Initially Abramovich and his millions were welcomed with the most open of arms but now there would be few tears shed if he cold-footed it back to Siberia.

The win in Valencia took some of the heat off Grant but few expect the Israeli to remain in the Chelsea hot seat long term.

* * * * *

SOMETIMES things are so obviously wrong you wonder how they slipped through the system. Not only that, a better alternative is staring everyone in the face — except those making the decision.

Football Association chief executive Brian Barwick is to introduce a pilot scheme in January at grass roots level whereby only the captain can talk to the referee. The idea is to improve respect between players and match officials.

He said: "These things are done better through discussion rather than a big stick but we want to stop the situation getting out of hand.

"There is a lot of emotion and passion in the game but you only have to look at a sport like rugby to see there seems to be a certain level of respect for the officials. That sets a marker down for our game because the treatment of referees is a really serious issue and something we have to deal with."

The first weakness in this undoubtedly well-intended proposal is that in law NO player, not even the captain, has any right to speak to the referee.

And referees have few problems with a polite inquiry from any player why a decision was given. What everybody who loves the game should want stamped out is the harassing of match officials and in-your-face abuse which is now sadly commonplace at every level of football.

It could also be pointed out that among recent captains are Roy Keane, Dennis Wise, John Terry and Patrick Vieira who have hardly been calmness personified in dealings with referees.

The F.A. could have come up with a far better scheme which is to punish managers and players properly for criticizing, abusing, surrounding and generally doubting the integrity of match officials.

Not a £10,000 ($20,000) fine, which is loose change to Premier League superstars. And as Barwick's aims are to "make sure there is good behavior towards referees from the top down" why not start at the highest level?

Grass roots players copy the antics of Premier League players and a Sunday morning referee will endure regular abuse from park footballers because they are copying the country's leading performers.

If England players show no respect toward the referee why should they?

Yet the F.A. has shown to be lily-livered when it comes to disciplining managers and players, worried about the affect it could have on their relationship with the Professional Footballers' Association and League Managers' Association, whose idea of freedom of speech extends to turning a blind ear to unfounded criticism of the referee after a defeat.

Clubs can fine a player a week's wages for disciplinary matters such as arriving late for training. But a public slagging off of a referee would bring a fine of a morning's wages at most by the F.A. Funny old game.

Apart from fines whereby the punishment fits the crime, the F.A. should also follow UEFA's lead and make a touchline ban more wide-reaching. Managers guilty of unacceptable behavior in the technical area are banned from playing any part in a European match or two. They can have no contact with the players once the squad arrives at the stadium and they are not permitted to enter the dressing-rooms.

Instead the F.A. is starting an experiment that goes against law at grassroots level to improve player discipline. A missed opportunity for our national game.

* * * * *

THE CELTIC fan who ran on the pitch and touched AC Milan 'keeper Dida toward the end of Wednesday's Champions League tie has been arrested. It must be hoped that if found guilty the pitch invader is given a sanction that will discourage others to follow his example.

But Dida's reaction was disgraceful. The Brazilian initially started to give chase before falling to the ground, holding his face as if hit by a heavyweight boxer and eventually being carried off with an ice pack on his neck.

Only Dida really knows the level of contact the fan made and whether he vastly exaggerated the pain level.

Television evidence was damning and Gazzetta dello Sport's online poll showed 88 percent of Italian fans in favor of a UEFA rap for the 'keeper.

Celtic chairman Brian Quinn spoke for most when he said: "I'm making no excuse for the behavior and the fan behaved disgracefully. But the contact with the 'keeper was minimal, absolutely minimal.

"Unless I missed something he was carried off for what seemed to be the lightest tap you can imagine."

Celtic is likely to be punished by UEFA although a ground closure seems unlikely and would be unfair. It may be difficult for UEFA to punish Dida, too, but such a decision would be met with widespread approval.

Christopher Davies was a longtime soccer correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.


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