Portsmouth’s well documented, if not bizarre, troubles over the last few years have given few Pompey supporters reason for optimism.
It’s a lot more likely that drinking has risen drastically on the South Coast. From the high of winning the FA Cup, to the gradual, at first, selling off of players, to Redknapp leaving again, to Gaydamak announcing he would no longer fund the club, to first one, then two Arab billionaires without any money, to a Hong Kong businessman who seized the club for non-payment of debt, yet still claims the debt, to a winding up order, to administration, yet not really administration because the points have not been deducted, to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs challenging the voluntary administration, to another possible winding up order. I’ll need a couple of beers just to diagram that sentence, much less make sense of it all.
When I do have those beers, though, I will make sure to raise a glass to Avram Grant. Yes, I said Avram Grant. Mr. Lugubrious. The Undertaker. The Man Who Never Smiles. In this, the season of our discontent, Avram Grant has stood out as a beacon, a knight in shining armor, the right man for the job.
Admit it: when he was appointed, you laughed. You mocked his scowl. You pointed out that he was a mere figurehead along for the ride in his stint at Chelsea. You gave him no credit for getting Chelsea to the Champions League Final, one slipped John Terry penalty kick away from being champions of Europe. You gave him no credit for getting Chelsea to the last match day with a chance to win the Premier League. You would probably be right in those assessments, but should those judgments be applied to him at Portsmouth?
When Avram Grant charged on to the pitch at halftime of the home match against Sunderland and gave the referee an earful, and judging by his body language they weren’t sharing recipes for their favorite chicken salad, you saw where the players’ fighting spirit came from. This team has fought hard under Grant, as they did under Paul Hart. With so many off-field distractions to ward off, the players have had every excuse to not give full effort. They could have hung their heads in shame based on the actions of a few administrators and owners. Instead they pulled together and fought hard.
They have fought hard all season. They are not in a position to avoid relegation, having just entered administration on last Friday, yet went out and played hard at Burnley and came away with a 2-1 victory. The main celebration now is that they, like every other team in the Premier League, now have more wins than owners on the season. I believe some of the credit should go to the players, who are obviously playing hard for each other, as well as showcasing their talents for the rest of the league, knowing that they will all be sold this summer to pay off exorbitant debts. I believe most of the credit should go to Avram Grant.
Imagine having to walk into that dressing room and seeing a team of castoffs. Many of them are playing because one or two other players were sold for cash. They know that they are not the club’s first choice. To add to that misery, the players have been paid late on four occasions this season. Current rumors are that the club has to come up with seven million pounds to finish March. What do you say to those players to get them to go out and keep fighting? What do you say to someone who knows he won’t be there next year? What do you say when so many things are out of control, and out of your own control, that you don’t know what tomorrow will bring? Whatever is being said to them is working, and it’s coming from Avram Grant. He won’t get any votes for manager of the year. The manager of a team that finishes bottom of the table rarely gets mentioned in that category. He should be mentioned, though. Many of the world’s top flight managers would struggle with such problems.
Will Portsmouth still exist to finish the season? Probably, but I wouldn’t place money on that right now. Will they still exist to start life in the Championship? Probably, but the 20 point deduction coupled with selling off all of their players to pay debt will mean almost certain relegation to League One. Only one thing is certain in my mind: if Avram Grant is the manager, even if the team is a group of 16 year olds, they will be well organized and play hard.