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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
He took them to within a slip of the European Cup and a Steve Bennett of the league, but when a bullet with Avram Grant's name on it came whistling in from the Chelsea boardroom it came as a surprise to absolutely no-one. This good, proud man had always been the wrong choice as Jose Mourinho's replacement. The players knew it, the fans knew it and one can only wonder why Roman Abramovich did not realise it until now. You do not usurp a trusted leader and install in his place a man whose most convincing qualification is that he is mates with the big boss.

But for all the protestations of Peter Kenyon that Chelsea don't settle for second best, results had very little to do with this decision. Even if John Terry had managed to keep his balance in the Luzhniki Stadium, Grant would still be scanning the jobs pages this morning. It is a crying shame that we no longer live in an era where a man can prove his worth with results, but such is life at the top of the richest league in the world. Chelsea, and indeed most of the European elite, now place a heavier emphasis on that awful word, 'branding'.

Branding can be a natural phenomenon, like those much envied European nights at Anfield that make every Liverpool fan on the planet glow with pride. More often than not though, it's artificial. The accumulation of specific players to crack international t-shirt markets. The use of key figures in high-end consumer product advertising. It all goes to feed the rapacious desire of the suits in the boardroom as they scavenge the world for hidden revenue streams. Mourinho was perfect for today's game. Well-dressed, charismatic and outspoken, he looked as good on the touchline in his long coat as he did staring down from a billboard advertising expensive watches or credit cards. Newcomers to football, those floating proto-fans on the fringes of the game, took one look and decided that that was their kind of football. Can anyone think of a product that Grant could advertise? Funerals perhaps?

Managers must also be able to deal with the insatiable demands of the media and I have seen few do it as badly as Grant. Mourinho knew that the more the press focused on him, the less they concentrated on the players. His bosses knew that more flashing images of a strong, confident Mourinho meant more new cash-rich supporters across the world. Everyone was a winner. With Grant, everybody lost. Journalists, against all conventional beliefs, are just human beings doing a job. If they get a call from the editor asking for 600 words on the press conference in the next hour, the last thing they need is to sit in front of a monosyllabic, mumbling grump who doesn't want to be there. Moody journalists write angry articles and that means no new fans and no positive branding.

Chelsea have put themselves in a very difficult position. It appears that they want a winner, but a winner who won't cause trouble with the hierarchy. They want someone famous and high-profile, but still desperate enough to walk into a club where shadowy backroom factions fight for the attentions of the owner. Someone who plays attractive football, but rarely loses. Someone who can confidently deal with the media, and still not upset the balance of a strong dressing-room. If the power-brokers at Stamford Bridge know their football, they'll ignore the La Liga table and hire Frank Rijkaard. Unfortunately, recent events suggest that football is not their key area of expertise.