Sunday, 15 May 2011

The Thorns Reaped

The thorns which I have reap'd are of the tree
I planted; they have torn me, and I bleed.
I should have known what fruit would spring from such a seed.

Avram Grant was sacked as manager of West Ham United on Sunday night. He was informed by chairman David Sullivan, who left his seat in the directors' box early to wait for Grant in the tunnel as he left the pitch amid chaotic scenes at the DW Stadium, after West Ham’s dramatic 3-2 defeat to Wigan Athletic. Grant was then led to a spare room inside the stadium where he was summarily dismissed by Sullivan, co-owner David Gold and the club’s vice-chairman, Karren Brady. Grant was given the option to travel home alone by car and even said his goodbyes to his coaching staff. The Hammers’ crestfallen players, led by midfielder Scott Parker, persuaded him to board the team bus to travel to the airport. Carlton Cole reportedly told Grant: "We came together and we are leaving together" and made him take a seat among the squad.

As tensions rose, a fan is understood to have remonstrated with Brady as she sat in the directors’ box. She immediately complained to Wigan chairman Dave Whelan about the incident, although the supporter is believed to have apologised later. While chants for Grant to go tumbled from the stands, the pilot of a light plane chose the perfect moment to drape a banner with the words ‘Avram Grant – Millwall legend’ to mark the end of West Ham’s status in the Premier League. There was more trouble at the final whistle as captain Parker was restrained after an altercation with Wigan fans. The club later confirmed Grant's dismissal in a two-paragraph statement and said that the first-team coach, Kevin Keen, would oversee West Ham's final match of the season next Sunday, at home to Sunderland.

It is finally a decisive move by the board that would appear an attempt to defuse some of the anger engulfing them. However there will undoubtedly be a hostile atmosphere at Upton Park for Sullivan and Gold who only took over in January 2010, promising to restore the club’s fortunes. The West Ham players have struggled with Grant’s training regime and tactics this season and there is understood to be deep regret within the boardroom that he was not sacked earlier in a campaign which appeared doomed to failure with him in charge.

Grant replaced Gianfranco Zola who only just staved off relegation last May and was regarded as too weak by the new owners, despite the financial meltdown at the club that he faced and dealt with. Instead of sacking Grant, West Ham invested in loan players in January. There was a rally in form, which saw them out of the bottom three, but then they collapsed again, with relegation confirmed despite holding a 2-0 lead at the half.

Despite the expectation that Grant was going to go, the suddenness was a shock, not least to the 56-year-old Israeli who was telling friends last week that he still hoped to stay despite losing the faith of the board. Grant, who returned to London with the rest of the squad, did his usual post-match press conference even though he knew he was sacked. He said: "I don’t know my future, I don’t think about myself now, it’s too tough for me that we’re relegated. First we have to face this situation. Yes, I take responsibility. I’m not a guy who gives responsibility to other people, it is my responsibility to pick the team and every game and the tactics so it’s my responsibility about the result." Grant, after overseeing his second successive relegation which unlike last year's experience with Portsmouth did not have the consolation of an FA Cup final appearance, said: "It is a very sad day, the saddest since I started football almost 40 years ago. I cannot put it into words. I am very sad, especially for the supporters and the people at the club."

The Israeli came to Upton Park to succeed Zola, who was far more popular with supporters although he avoided relegation last season with only 35 points. "I arrived with a lot of desire but I knew the financial problems," Grant said. "The team was saved from relegation but the league was very weak. Most of the teams I have managed have been very happy with my work. The quality of football we played was very good but the results were not good and football is only about results. My job was to keep this team in the league and I failed. I think I did well with the players. Scott Parker has had the season of his life. James Tomkins developed a lot, Danny Gabbidon had a very good season and Rob Green recovered very well from the World Cup."

It is the quality of his players that is the most damning evidence against Grant, writes Tim Rich in the Guardian. Parker, who has become the first footballer of the year ever to endure the indignity of relegation, will be sold. Sullivan has already confirmed a number of other big names and high-earners will go - like Thomas Hitzlsperger and Robert Green - while others - Matthew Upson, Luis Boa Morte, Danny Gabbidon and Jonathan Spector - are out of contract. Robbie Keane and Wayne Bridge, who earn £155,0000 a week between them, will return to their parent clubs.

Sullivan has estimated the cost of relegation at £40 million and there is also likely to be a round of redundancies on top of the player exodus with the spectre of West Ham inheriting the Olympic Stadium while in the Championship now a clear possibility. The key will be whether the board and the new manager can hold on to some of the younger players such as James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Mark Noble - West Ham have already had offers - but that may well depend on who takes over and what kind of assurances can be given.

To that end, the club's owners will now attempt to find a replacement amid reports that Neil Warnock's position is not as secure it should be for a man who led Queens Park Rangers to the Premier League as champions. Despite featuring prominently on the list of possible replacements, on Sunday night a senior club source told Jason Burt that there was only a "10 per cent chance" he would take over. The former Sheffield United manager’s history with West Ham over the Carlos Tévez affair is a problem while the club may seek a younger manager.

There remains firm interest in Paul Lambert although he is expected to remain at Norwich City for the time being now they are promoted. There is also some support for Cardiff City’s Dave Jones, Blackpool’s Ian Holloway and the currently available Chris Hughton. Steve McClaren and Gus Poyet were last night installed as early contenders to take charge, as was former West Ham midfielder Martin Allen, now at Notts County, and Hull chief Nigel Pearson. It may well be that West Ham wait and see how the relegation and promotion contests play out before they make their move for a new manager who will have to undertake an extensive rebuilding of a squad that will be decimated by the drop.

While West Ham did discuss, previously, the merits of Sam Allardyce, he is thought unlikely to want to drop down from the top flight; similarly, Martin O'Neill, the man they targeted in January, is unlikely to want the task of reviving a club that is already £80m in debt. The stadium, Upton Park, and the training ground at Chadwell Heath have already been put up as security to the banks, and Sullivan confirmed before the game that they were "in a worse financial position than any other club in the country". He has already ruled out the possibility of the club going into administration.

Meanwhile, Avram Grant is understood to have an open invitation to return to Chelsea, possibly as director of football, and still enjoys a good relationship with Roman Abramovich despite being sacked in 2008. He has told friends, however, that he wants to remain a manager. The Israeli will get a pay-off of around £1million, less than a year's money. He had three years and two months remaining on a four-year deal but a clause in his contract stated he would not have it paid up in full if they were relegated. Grant's shocking run in the Upton Park hot-seat garnered just seven wins in 37 Premier League matches

His record, since becoming West Ham manager on a four-year contract last June, reads:

P: 47, W: 15, D: 12, L: 20, Win per cent: 32

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