Club Focus – Portsmouth – Grant thinking with his heart, not his head

As Portsmouth welcome Blackburn Rovers to Fratton Park on Saturday in the hope of staving of their inevitable relegation for another week, Blues boss Avram Grant has apparently committed his services to the Pompey cause, even with the side set to be plying their trade in the Championship.

From John Terry’s missed penalty that would’ve secured Grant his very own place a the top of Europe’s elite, to attempting to lead a stricken and devastated club from the midst of the second tier of English football, the question has to be asked, why has the Israeli decided to stay on-board this sinking ship? To add to an already dire situation, when Pompey are relegated, the potential 15-point penalty may well put immediate pay to an instant return to the Promised Land. Add that to the fact Grant is going to have any remaining quality the squad currently has shipped out without his say-so, with any replacements bought in on a shoestring, only makes it even harder to believe. Make no mistake, Grant’s services would be jumped upon by countless clubs if he became available – only last week Hull made enquiries – but Grant’s reasoning for staying at Fratton Park goes beyond any footballing reasons.

Since taking over from Paul Hart in November of last year, Grant’s (Premier League) points per game ratio sits a relatively meagre 0.79 – only marginally better than Hart’s 0.54. Obviously off-field circumstances need to be taken into account, of which both managers suffered horrendously from, while Grant’s four FA Cup wins deserve credit. While Grant and his side have toiled on the pitch, the Israeli’s loyalty, passion and attitude has seen Pompey fans take them into their hearts, as they believe the former Chelsea boss has a genuine affection for the club – something very few who have been associated with the club in recent years can lay similar claim to. If anyone has watched Grant at close quarters since taking the reins at Fratton Park, there can be no doubt he has bonded with the club and its fans. His now infamous outburst at half-time against Sunderland in February, his semi crowd surf at Burnley, and his sinking to the knees celebration against Birmingham in the FA Cup has seen fans respond in the most positive of ways at their manager’s outbursts of emotion.

Indeed anyone who will have seen Grant at Chelsea, wouldn’t believe it’s the same man. During his short tenure at Stamford Bridge, the Israeli cut a forlorn and sometimes emotionless figure lacking in any charisma whatsoever. His tenure on the south coast has seen a passionate and caring football manager come to the fore, one who cares little for footballing politics, and who lives purely to enjoy the game of football and give his best for the fans. That is why is has become such a cult figure at Fratton Park – so much so that he is affectionately known as Uncle Avram is some quarters. So if Grant does end up taking the reins at Pompey, he will have many telling him he is making the biggest mistake of his career. While on a football scale that may well be true, his heart will tell him otherwise and it will leave Pompey with a hugely respected and committed manager at the helm to try steer them through the wilderness which is almost certain to follow.

Firstly, Grant has to see out the remainder of this season, of which the league campaign could mathematically end on Saturday, should Pompey fail to win and West Ham or Hull secure maximum points. With the Blues’ current injury crisis, Grant has minimal options available to him, and he certainly won’t be risking anyone with next Sunday’s Wembley showdown on the horizon. Grant is still hoping he can get the likes of Nadir Belhadj, Ricardo Rocha, Marc Wilson and David James all back in time for the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley but all four face an anxious wait. It goes without saying, that the aforementioned four are imperative if Pompey are to stand any chance of overcoming the odds to beat a far stronger Tottenham side on April 11.

While relegation looms and the injury crisis grows, at least Grant’s apparent stay will keep the hope burning strong in Pompey’s hearts. If there is one man to come of this escapade with any credit, it is the Israeli, and everyone on the south coast hopes his, the club’s and the fans’ relationship only goes on, getting stronger.

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