Time to cut Avram some slack
ESPN analyst Kevin Keegan is one of English football's most respected figures and he will be writing for ESPNsoccernet throughout the season. As a player, Kevin represented Liverpool with distinction, winning numerous titles in domestic and European football, and was twice named European Footballer of the Year during his time at Hamburg. Kevin has managed England, Newcastle United, Manchester City and Fulham and is one of the most respected voices in the English game.
Time is a very fluid concept in the world of football management. Very often, managers are not afforded that most precious of commodities, and it is reported Avram Grant is running out of it. But, at present, the time is not right to sack the West Ham manager.
There has been persistent speculation in the press recently that Grant has three games to save his job at Upton Park, and no doubt there is a modicum of truth in those suggestions. But it was David Gold and David Sullivan who appointed him in the summer. They must have thought long and hard about the reasons to do so at the time, and the circumstances can't have changed too much. They also oversaw a long-term project at Birmingham and they have demonstrated a willingness to stick by managers in the past, which certainly works in Grant's favour. Had the two Davids inherited him from a previous regime, instead of choosing the Israeli as Gianfranco Zola's replacement, his position may have been vacated by now. Because he was their chosen man he will probably be afforded more time.
Speculation has not been dampened by Gold and Sullivan's "no comment" when responding to questions about their manager's future following a board meeting on Wednesday, but just as players and managers have to watch what they say, chairman also have to be careful. How often do they get quotes thrown back at them? "No comment" never comes back to haunt you, but if you say "we are 100% behind the manager" and then sack him the week after, like some clubs have done over the past few weeks, you leave yourself open to ridicule. Both Gold and Sullivan are experienced club owners, they have been through it all at Birmingham, and they have learned that you don't stick your head above the parapet.
No one escapes the glare of media speculation in management. You are always quietly relieved when it is someone else and not you.” -- Kevin Keegan on the pressures of management
Clearly that approach has not ended debate about Grant's job security, and as much as people may claim they don't read the newspapers, or don't listen to debates on the radio and television, you can't help but know what people are saying. You have to put speculation to the back of your mind, and you are always aware that a good result will alleviate some of that pressure and shift the focus on to someone else. Roy Hodgson bore the brunt for a while, then it was Mark Hughes, then it was Arsene Wenger. No one escapes the glare of media speculation in management. You are always quietly relieved when it is someone else and not you.
Events this season, and in recent years, have demonstrated patience isn't a word that is in the vocabulary of some Premier League owners. When they are under pressure and crowds are dropping, they weigh up whether a change in manager will spark an upturn in form and get 5,000 more through the turnstiles. Has the manager got control of the players? Are they playing for him? Is the manager overseeing progress, or is the club regressing? There is a lot to consider. Stasis for some clubs is good enough. It isn't at Liverpool, for example.
West Ham's form does seem to be improving slightly though. They have taken eight points from their past five games, and secured a first-leg lead in their Carling Cup semi-final against Birmingham City, so it would be strange timing to sack Grant now that results are more favourable. While there has been the odd blip like the 5-0 defeat at Newcastle on January 5, Grant has secured results that suggest West Ham are capable of escaping relegation.
It also appears that he has important support from within the dressing room. After the Carling Cup win over Birmingham, Scott Parker said the players are united behind Grant. While a player will always produce that kind of statement about their boss, before then saying they are looking forward to working with his replacement, I do get the sense that the West Ham team are trying. I didn't get that feeling about Liverpool under Hodgson, but it seems as though the West Ham players are fighting for their manager.
While Grant contends with media chatter about his job, Sam Allardyce and Martin O'Neill have both been linked with the post and are two top managers who are out of work at the moment. However, Grant's future is not solely dependent on who else is available; it depends on whether the owners feel he is the man to turn the club's situation around. Gold and Sullivan have to give him a chance, and I think they will. No manager is safe when results are disappointing, but a good result against Arsenal on Saturday could kick-start West Ham's season, and potentially keep his job safe for some time yet.