Avram Grant left the Chelsea hot-seat a lick of paint away from being a Champions League winner. He also left reviled and trophy-less, unable to capture the hearts of a fan-base who had previously been smitten by the charms of Jose Mourinho. English football, it seemed, had seen the last of Grant. There was no great farewell.
Two years later and he resigns from a Portsmouth team relegated to the Championship. But as their squad bade farewell to their supporters as the whistle blew on their FA Cup hopes, the Pompey Chimes rang to Avram Grant’s name. His resignation is a sad, inevitable parting of ways borne out of financial circumstance. Portsmouth’s position today didn’t allow Grant the luxury of consulting his heart. If he had, he would have remained. Grant’s redemption is an unlikely one. Irrespective of their nine-point deduction, Portsmouth would have been relegated from the Premier League in 20th place. His reign included 5-0 humiliations at home to Chelsea and away to Manchester United – the latter a performance so abject that they handed United three own-goals.
In spite of all of this, Grant became a figurehead for a football club ran into oblivion by a series of owners without care, remorse or money. At the same time as ex-chief executive, Peter Storrie, attempted to portray himself as the Boy With the Fingers in the Dyke stemming the £134m debt (albeit a handsomely remunerated one with a £600 000 basic annual salary) – the man at the heart of Portsmouth fans’ affections was their manager. As their final few months in the Premier League were given an elegiac feel following a nine-point deduction, it was Grant who galvanised the threadbare squad. At that point it would have been understandable had Portsmouth sank without trace.
Salvation was too much to ask for. The run to the FA Cup final was his miracle. It needed a heart of stone, or ownership of a Southampton season ticket, not to feel some joy at their victory over Tottenham at Wembley the day after their relegation had been confirmed. During that FA Cup run, Grant had come to embody Portsmouth’s defiance, its fervent support and its unlikely romance. Their team ripped apart to service the debts, there was poignancy as Grant led his team out at Wembley. Only one familiar face, goalkeeper David James, remained in their starting line-up from their 2008 vintage. The heart had been ripped out of their team, yet still Grant made it beat.
Today he leaves with the gratitude of the supporters who remained behind at Wembley in defeat, the last gathering of the clans. He also leaves on the back of a most unlikely redemption, with vacant positions in the Premier League and around Europe awaiting his signature. Two years ago he left a team of Princes a Pauper, his career in England in ruins. With his departure today, the tables have turned.