How Avram turned the me­dia around

It wasn’t his foot­ball ac­com­plish­ments which fi­nally got the Chelsea man­ager some good press


THERE CAN be lit­tle dis­pute as to who is the most fa­mous Is­raeli in Bri­tain. No, it is not the ar­tic­u­late new Is­raeli am­bas­sador Ron Prosor, de­spite his im­pres­sive me­dia ap­pear­ances. Nor is it the con­duc­tor Daniel Baren­boim, who has re­cently gar­nered acres of space in The Guardian, pro­nounc­ing on the dif­fi­cul­ties of his adopted land.

It is with­out doubt the man­ager of Chelsea Foot­ball Club, Avram Grant, plucked from the rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity of the coach­ing staff last au­tumn to take over from the charis­matic Jose Mour­inho. This was per­haps his big­gest sin. Mour­inho was a favourite of the sports jour­nal­ists be­cause of his colour­ful lan­guage, and was adored by women be­cause of his dark good looks and style. Grant was the an­tithe­sis of all this: tac­i­turn, slightly over­weight, and he rarely smiled. He only re­cently came into his own as some­one with a quick, un­der­stated Jewish wit.

Even the most cul­tured of the sports jour­nal­ists re­gret­ted what they saw as Grant’s usurp­ing of one of the great­est jobs in the land. Henry Win­ter, writ­ing in the Tele­graph, be­moaned the fact that, de­spite the re­sults, he was in a job which right­fully might have gone to one of the great, young home­grown man­agers like Ever­ton’s David Moyes or Black­burn’s Mark Hughes. And Grant hadn’t served his time, came from a mi­nor foot­balling na­tion, and was only there be­cause he was a pal of the owner Ro­man Abramovich.

In some of the copy — and cer­tainly on the ter­races — there ap­peared to be more than a touch of an­tisemitism, as con­firmed by the abu­sive, racist emails re­vealed by the JC last week.

The mood changed when Grant out­paced his pre­de­ces­sor Mour­inho by dump­ing Liver­pool out of the Cham­pi­ons League en route to Moscow. For foot­ball re­porters, the great­est hu­man drama is a bro­ken leg or dis- lo­cated arm. But Grant ex­posed them to some­thing in­fin­itely more mov­ing and shock­ing when, 12 hours af­ter the Liver­pool vic­tory, he flew to Poland to take part on the Holo­caust Me­mo­rial Day Ser­vices at Auschwitz.

As the Daily Mir­ror noted (and the JC first re­ported), his fa­ther Meir sur­vived the Nazi in­va­sion of Poland but his grand­par­ents and count­less other rel­a­tives were among the six mil­lion who died. “This puts ev­ery bat­tle you fight in pro­por­tion — in­clud­ing the bat­tles you fight in foot­ball,” he told the pa­per. There were sim­i­larly sym­pa­thetic re­ports in the Sun, the Daily Mail and the broad­sheets. Grant was no longer the cold fish and the usurper.

One of the most sen­si­tive pro­files came from Roger Al­ton, soon-to-be In­de­pen­dent ed­i­tor, in the Spec­ta­tor. Why was Grant not get­ting the re­spect he de­served, Al­ton queried. He won­dered if it might be an­tisemitism: “There has al­ways been an un­pleas­ant strain of it run­ning through English, and es­pe­cially Lon­don, life,” he noted.

Al­ton spec­u­lated that a change in at­ti­tude was pos­si­bly en­gen­dered by the spin doc­tor Matthew Freud, hus­band of Elis­a­beth Mur­doch and di­rect de­scen­dent of Sig­mund, whom he called “an ex­tremely smart psy­cho­log­i­cal op­er­a­tor.” Fur­ther­more, Grant had made “a mag­nif­i­cent speech” at the March of the Liv­ing be­tween Auschwitz and Birke­nau. “He was a hero to thou­sands of Jews present,” Al­ton con­cluded.

Grad­u­ally Grant — and not just through re­sults on the field — has be­gun to win over the me­dia and, via them, the sup­port­ers. It has been dif­fi­cult. And at times the in­tense spot­light has sent Grant into mono­syl­labic rage. But lat­terly, the me­dia have come to see in him a man­ager whose intelligence and bat­tle-scarred his­tory make him dif­fer­ent from other man­agers. Turn­ing the tide of me­dia opin­ion is not easy, as many for­mer Eng­land mangers, would tes­tify.

Some­how, Grant man­aged it.

Alex Brum­mer is City Ed­i­tor of the Daily Mail

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