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Saturday, March 1, 2008


Without a trophy, Grant's tenure with Chelsea will be short

LONDON — Those who dislike the way Chelsea has bought its way to success celebrated its League Cup final defeat by Tottenham. It wasn't that so many neutrals wanted Spurs to win, they just wanted Chelsea to lose.

Christopher Davies

The honeymoon period for Avram Grant, Jose Mourinho's successor, is over. The media boot has well and truly been put in with suggestions of a "divorce" for Grant this summer, while stories coming out of Stamford Bridge suggest Chelsea is more a family at war than a collective unit all pulling together.

Captain John Terry and assistant Henk Ten Cate apparently went head-to-head the day before the final in a row over training.

After the game, which few doubted Spurs deserved to win, billionaire owner Roman Abramovich went to the dressing room, unhappy with what he had seen at Wembley.

The Russian was also at the first training session after the defeat last Monday, which many saw as undermining Grant's authority.

If Chelsea does not win at least one of the Premier League, Champions League or the F.A. Cup titles, then Grant will be replaced.

It is unthinkable that Abramovich will accept such failure given his £400 million investment.

A problem for Grant is that he has too many good players to choose from now that everyone is fully fit.

Do not believe the manager's cliche that it is a problem they like.

While some players will accept being part of a squad, John Terry, Alex, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka expect to play every game.

Claudio Pizzaro, Tal Ben Haim, Paulo Ferreira, Steve Sidwell and Andriy Shevchenko will not rock the Chelsea boat too much when left out. The big guns will and Grant does not have the strength of character or personality of Mourinho to keep a lid on such frustrations.

Abramovich is also concerned at the way Chelsea plays. The most expensively assembled squad in the history of football should raise the pulse more often. Under Mourinho pragmatism was combined with winning trophies. You cannot bore and lose, though.

The irony is that winning the League Cup barely counts as a success for Chelsea but losing it is a huge failure.

* * * * *

AVRAM GRANT told his players the team's lineup for the League Cup final against Tottenham two hours before the kickoff. He is not alone in keeping his selection cards not so much close to his chest as almost superglued.

The reason is to keep the opposition in the dark for as long as possible. This strikes me as being one of the more bizarre traditions in football and surely creates more problems from within than for the opposition.

Putting aside the argument that customers paying top-rate have a right to know who they are going to see, it means that the side starting the game has not been able to prepare for the match as a unit.

Such is the paranoia of managers that they do not allow the team they will select to practice together in the build-up to the match. Presumably, the reason the players are not told the side is because the man in charge cannot trust them to keep it secret.

Managers talk about a wonderful team-spirit and togetherness but don't have enough faith in their players to tell them the team for fear of leaks.

Chelsea's starting XI against Tottenham surprised most people. The players Grant (who is far from unique in his approach) chose to start the game, the formation, the tactics . . . even those involved were taken aback.

Yet how much advantage would it really be to the opposition to know who they were playing against?

Premier League players know each other so well they are hardly going to be stunned to discover that Cristiano Ronaldo has electric pace or a defender is stronger on his right side than left.

A manager would also be able to prepare and brief his team in the hour or so before a game after discovering their opponent's lineup. You tend not to see too many unknowns thrown into the Premier League deep end.

And wouldn't it be a huge statement of confidence if a manager announced his team the day before the game, effectively saying: "OK . . . beat us."

Maybe managers keep their players guessing so those left out do not rock the pregame boat. Balance this against the starting XI being able to prepare in training and mentally for the game and perhaps showing your hand might not be a bad thing.

* * * * *

WHEN JEREMIE Aliadiere had his nose pinched by Liverpool's Javier Mascherano last weekend, the Middlesbrough forward reacted by tapping his opponent on the chin.

Referee Martin Atkinson showed Aliadiere the red card for violent conduct.

The laws state it is an offense to strike or attempt to strike an opponent which in the broadest sense Aliadiere did, though what constitutes a strike is subjective.

It was not a punch, a push or a shove. It was little more than a touch, certainly not violent in the sense most would associate with the word and Mascherano has probably suffered more facial pain from a bad shave.

Middlesbrough appealed against the dismissal. A Football Association Regulatory Commission rejected the dismissal and gave Aliadiere an extra game ban for a frivolous appeal.

Middlesbrough chief executive Keith Lamb said: "We are very angry about it. We looked at the video and took into account the comments of TV pundits, journalists and others in football who considered it to be a very harsh decision. On this basis we appealed.

"We can accept the F.A. backing the referee and upholding the three-game ban. What I found strange was the referee said he saw the full incident, which included a Liverpool player grabbing Aliadiere by the face. He considered the Liverpool player's actions didn't warrant any further action."

So for an act of petulance rather than violence, Aliadiere must serve a four-match suspension while Martin Taylor, whose studs-showing tackle on Eduardo left the Arsenal striker with a leg broken in three places, received just a three-game ban.

Whatever the complexities of the law the two punishments are difficult to sell to supporters.

The power brokers should always attempt to see there is a sense of natural justice instead of an over-riding sense of injustice we are left with here.

In the secret world of the F.A., the commission does not have to explain or justify their decision, not even to the FA. Few other multimillion pound industries can operate in such a clandestine world, but on Planet F.A. disciplinary transparency does not exist.

Christopher Davies writes about the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.

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