The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.
We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.
Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.
What with the big news about Fabio Capello agreeing to manage a team that even he won’t be able to overload with Dutchmen, the revelation that Avram Grant signed a new four-year contract with Chelsea yesterday has sort of been swept under the rug. That’s too bad, because Grant’s success has been one of the most unexpectedly nice stories of the Premier League season so far. He’s gone sixteen games without a defeat since that first loss to Manchester United, resisted Abramovich’s meddling, breezed through the group stage of the Champions League, only played Shevchenko when he’s felt like it, and forged a team that, heading into Sunday’s match against Arsenal, has gone more than 450 minutes without conceding a goal. Not bad for a tiny frog who lived in a time capsule until a construction worker pulled him out of a hollow cornerstone in 1955.
It’s no secret that Roman Abramovich wants Chelsea to play entertaining football. It was obviously made clear to Grant, probably by pale blond slabs of men with KGB accents and snow-shouldered meatlocker overcoats, that after Mourinho’s bitter departure from the club (soundtrack: “Success Has Made a Failure of Our Home”) he would be expected to transform Chelsea from a team of bulldozing union men into an Arsenal-style musical revue. This is obvious because of the diligence and purpose with which Grant has indicated to the press that Chelsea are going to f***ing rock ‘n’ roll.
But a man can only be who he is. And as a man, Avram Grant is an animated frog who simply does not take out his top hat and cane when anyone is paying attention. When it’s just Chelsea fans, sure, you get “Hello, my baby,” some Radio City leg kicks, and a 6-0 win against Man City. But as soon as everyone shuffles over to look, you get an indifferent ribbit and a 2-0, penalty-assisted win against Sunderland.
I don’t mean this to be critical of Avram Grant. As I said, a cartoon frog can only be himself, and in any case, his attempts to diversify the style of entertainment on offer have not always moved in a comfortable direction. For now, you just have to hope you catch him when he thinks no one is looking. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear a rendition of “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” that would make Ethel Merman weep with jealousy. If you’re not, you’re going to hear a bullfrog moo that could barely even score against Bolton. Either way, a win’s a win. I just hope Abramovich realizes it, or Grant could find himself in another time capsule before too long. Well, a box in a concrete girder, anyway. Same difference.
by Brian Phillips · December 14, 2007