Chelsea welcome back stampede of Elephants

February 9, 2008

Chelsea coach Avram Grant admits he is facing a real selection poser when he gets his full complement of players back from the African Nations Cup.

So far Grant has only welcomed back Mikel John Obi from Ghana with Michael Essien, Salomon Kalou and Didier Drogba scheduled to play in a third-place play-off between Ghana and the Ivory Coast today.

Grant admits it would have been wrong to ask them to come back in time to be considered for tomorrow's Barclays Premier League clash against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge.

But he will be boosted by the return of England midfielder Frank Lampard who has recovered from his thigh problem.

Victory for Chelsea will take their unbeaten home run to 76 games spanning four years with Arsenal the last team to defeat the Blues on their own soil back in February 2004.

But while everyone expected Chelsea to wobble during a month when they lost so many key players to international duty and three others through injury, they have kept in the hunt for all four major trophies.

Now Grant admits the returning players will have to fight for their place in the side.

'We have proved that we can do without them but we also proved we can do it with them also,' said Grant.

'Of course, when you have a bad situation you also have a positive situation.

'But other players have shown themselves at an important time. Now there will be competition between them but it is also the time to say good words about the players who have done so well in their absence.'

Mikel's return is timely for Grant but the 20-year-old's disciplinary record is cause for concern.

The Nigeria midfielder left for the African Nations Cup after being red-carded for the fourth time in his Chelsea career against Everton.

The youngster now says he wants to clean up his act but Grant says it is all about a learning curve for the talented player.

Grant said: 'I haven't spoken to him about it but I will always be happy to finish the game with 11 players.

'Football is not for robots it is for men. Players, especially when they are young, make some mistakes.

'But we love them even when they make mistakes. The problem is whether they learn from them. Mikel is only 20 years old and sometimes he makes mistakes but he is learning.'

Grant has found himself thrust into the job of manager following the shock departure of Jose Mourinho and he admits that it is a far tougher job in this country now than ever before.

'It is harder in England for sure.' admitted Grant. 'Years ago you knew a manager would stay at the same club 15, 10, or five years but now people are less patient and you can understand that because a lot of things are involved that were not in the past.

'I came here as director of football and I think I did good job as a director here. But I don't like to speak about myself so much. Then when Jose left and they offered me the job.

'I am not a man who plans his future. I wanted to be a manager when I was a national coach and I thought I deserved a chance but it is not so easy. But I didn't plan this.'