Saturday, January 15, 2011
A Bridge too far for Grant
Football reporters delight in claiming they know the truth behind a story that is about to break and, on an evening when Avram Grant's tenure as West Ham manager edged closer to an undignified end, the conspiracy theories were flying at Upton Park.
• Grant expects to keep job
• West Ham 0-3 Arsenal
A press room full of journalists is the most fervent breeding ground for rumour and counter rumour to spread and thus was the case as the imminent exit of Grant and expected arrival of Martin O'Neill was the only story under discussion before, during and after an alarmingly one sided Premier League fixture.
The most consistent version of this messy tale suggested Grant's tenure as West Ham manager ended once it became clear that the highly respected O'Neill is willing to take on the challenge, with Hammers owners David Sullivan and David Gold keen to snap up the Northern Irishman in a bid to save their Premier League lives.
West Ham officials should be ashamed that their clandestine moves to replace Grant had leaked into the media hours before this London derby with Arsenal and, while the outcome of this mismatch may not have been altered if the club had backed their hapless manager, the eerie atmosphere around Upton Park hardly helped the Hammers' uninspired players.
This used to be a venue noted for an intimidation factor that was its trademark, yet West Ham fans have hardly been given anything to cling onto by the team Grant has sent into battle this season, with his depressing presence on the touchline serving to deepen the gloom hovering over this club.
Grant gathered his men together in the very room being used by the media before we all arrived to write his obituaries as he held an impromptu pre-match briefing, yet nothing he could say would have changed the course of a game that was all but decided from the moment Robin van Persie fired Arsenal into a 13th-minute lead.
Behind once again, West Ham were in desperate need of inspiration from their leader, but Grant has never been the rabble-rousing touchline cheerleader that supporters of this particular club warm to and, as he occasionally wandered to the touchline with little intent, he struck the figure of a man out of his depth and asking to be put out of his misery.
As Theo Walcott all but confirmed the result of this game five minutes before the break, Grant knew his final half-time briefing beckoned and he went into it with the less than charitable cries of "You're getting sacked in the morning" ringing in his ears from Arsenal fans. Football, at times, can be cruel.
Grant's refusal to make the tactical changes that could, however improbably, have brought his side back into contention in the second half were as glaring as his decision to stick with one striker up front, giving West Ham no chance of a revival.
The third Arsenal goal duly arrived 14 minutes from time when Van Persie converted his penalty after Walcott was fouled in the box and with that, a majority of the supporters in this stadium headed for the exits. After another afternoon of misery, they could take no more.
Grant took time to shake every one of his players' hands as they left the pitch and the sight of him throwing his claret and blue scarf in the direction of the handful of Hammers fans who had stayed on to bid him farewell virtually confirmed that he would not be around for long.
To his credit, Grant showed his face at the post-match press briefing, but his performance in front of the media was typically grumpy as he refused to be drawn on his future.
"Why do people ask me about my future because the person who makes these rumours happen seems to know better than me," he fumed. "Ask me things that concern to the team. I am here to speak about football and what happens with everything else is not something I can talk about. Someone has started the rumours we have seen today, so ask this person what will happen to my future. They have to tell me if they want to do something different."
When quizzed over whether he was still West Ham manager after this latest defeat, Grant responded in deadpan fashion. "I am here talking to you, aren't I?" he said. "What do you want me to say? I am not the person to answer these questions. You know that."
Amid the Hammers' misery, Arsenal turned in a display of title-challenging class and their manager was delighted with his side's efforts as he met the media. "We were strong throughout and collected a comprehensive win," was the verdict of Arsene Wenger.
"We created plenty of chances and dominated throughout, so overall this was a mature performance from my team. It is clear that we are maturing and this is why I feel we have an outstanding chance to win the championship this season.''
This bizarre day ended with West Ham sources insisting no announcement on Grant's future was imminent, but few have ever believed Grant was the man to inspire a revival at Upton Park and now something must change before the club is damaged beyond repair. At this moment in time, this club's future seems to be as grim as that of their soon-to-be-departing manager.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Robin van Persie. The Dutchman has failed to hit the heights this season thanks to injury problems, but he made the most of the space being offered to him by the West Ham defence to score a fine first goal and create another for Walcott. He then dispatched his penalty with aplomb.
WAYNE BRIDGE VERDICT: In a season when West Ham have struggled to score goals, their decision to meet the obscene £90,000-a-week wage demands of Wayne Bridge to sign him on loan from Manchester City this week was bizarre. This less than average full back was woeful on his Hammers debut and is hardly likely to revive their season.
ARSENAL VERDICT: You can only beat what is put in front of you and Wenger's men did just that with a clinical display. They will not get many easier wins than this in the Premier League, but it was a job well done.
WEST HAM VERDICT: With players completely lacking in self belief and supporters who could barely raise themselves to cheer on their team, this is a club wallowing under a black cloud. Any manager willing to step into this mess would either be very brave or very foolish.