Grant close to achieving mission impossible

LONDON - Avram Grant says his favourite colours are black and blue, an apt choice for a coach who has suffered his fair share of bruising experiences.

Since November the Israeli has been at the controls of Portsmouth as the club hurtled towards financial oblivion and inevitable relegation from the Premier League but against all the odds he crash-landed Pompey into the FA Cup final.

On Saturday he has the chance to cause one of the biggest Cup final upsets against Chelsea - the club he guided to within half a goalpost of winning the Champions League in 2008 before being unceremoniously sacked.

Perhaps because he inherited a squad of world class performers at Chelsea, or because he lacked Jose Mourinho's media magnetism, Grant never gained the plaudits he deserved for his time at Stamford Bridge.

However, since accepting what many assumed was mission impossible at Portsmouth, Grant's stock has risen immeasurably. In Portsmouth's darkest hours, the 55-year-old Israeli has organised the resistance and maintained morale.

Survival in the Premier League was never feasible once nine points were deducted for the debt-laden club sliding into administration but Grant has galvanised a multi-national squad and the fiercely loyal fans for one last hoorah.

That he could prevent league champions Chelsea winning their first traditional English Double on Saturday adds spice to a plot that is already scarcely believable, although Grant prefers not to think of it as revenge.


"There were so many positive things so I won't concentrate on the negatives," a good-humoured Grant told reporters at Portsmouth's training ground this week.

"Chelsea gave me the chance to be the manager. I had so many good relationships with the players. My targets at Chelsea were to get to the Champions League final and to change the image of the team. Those two things I achieved, no doubt about that.

"I'm very relaxed about it because football can take you to places that you never expected. When I went to Chelsea I didn't think I would be the manager.

"I didn't know what would happen at Portsmouth and that we would be in this situation. I never thought I would love this club like I love this club."

While Grant's short reign at Chelsea ended without any silverware, the players he left behind still hold him in high regard and after his semi-final coup against Tottenham Hotspur they know Pompey cannot be treated lightly.

"I am very fond of Avram, he is a great manager," Chelsea midfielder Joe Cole said this week. "Maybe circumstances when he took over, coming in after a very popular manager Jose Mourinho made it very difficult for him.

"But he proved himself here and took us within a whisker of winning the Champions League, better than any other manager has done at Chelsea so far.

"It was a really hard time for the club and he steadied the ship and what he's done at Portsmouth is remarkable with all the turmoil that's going on."

Frank Lampard echoed Cole's sentiments.

"He's handled himself brilliantly and everyone's seen that it's not easy circumstances. They've held their heads high and managed to get to Wembley."