Premier League Clubs Managed: Chelsea (2007-2008), Portsmouth (2009-2010), West Ham United (2010-2011)
Avram Grant has spent the majority of his career coaching and managing in Israel, enjoying plenty of success in his homeland with a host of league titles and cup victories with different teams, including Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel-Aviv. However, he has also experienced three seasons coaching in England. He came within a kick of landing the biggest prize in European club football before experiencing a lost cause at Portsmouth and an underwhelming season in the dugout at West Ham United.
Four decades in Israel
Avram Grant began coaching as an 18-year-old all the way back in 1972 when he became a youth coach at his local side, Hapoel Petah Tikva. It was a spell that lasted a staggering 14 years. He made the big step into first-team management in 1986 when he was promoted into the role at Hapoel. He turned them into regular title contenders but they missed out on the top prize to Maccabi Haifa. Grant did enjoy back-to-back victories in the Toto Cup in 1990 and 1991.
His next stop was Maccabi Tel-Aviv where they won the league championship in his first season in-charge of the club, taking the top honours by 13 points in 1992. He repeated the success three years later before taking the position at Hapoel Haifa at the end of the 1994-1995 season. This was an unsuccessful spell as the club finished just fourth in the championship. He returned to Maccabi Tel-Aviv but couldn’t replicate the success of his first spell, only achieving one cup victory in 1999.
At the start of the new millennium, he went to Maccabi Haifa, coaching there until 2002. Maccabi enjoyed a dominating period under his tenure, winning consecutive league championships. However, they missed out on a potential place in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League after fielding an ineligible player in a qualifying tie against FC Haka of Finland.
Having led most of the major clubs in Israel, Avram moved into international management in 2002, becoming Israel’s youngest-ever boss in the process. However, they failed to qualify for both the 2004 European Championships and the World Cup in 2006. That was despite an undefeated qualification campaign in the latter but six draws from 10 matches saw them finish below France and Switzerland.
Off to Chelsea
In June 2006, Grant resigned as Israel manager after electing not to extend his contract. He moved to Portsmouth to become Technical Director whilst Harry Redknapp was in his second spell as manager there. However, he was also a close friend of Roman Abramovich and when the Russian billionaire offered him the position of Director of Football at Chelsea; it was an offer he simply couldn’t turn down. His arrival in July 2007 was believed to be another maker in the increased fractious relationship between Abramovich and Jose Mourinho.
In September 2007, Mourinho left as Blues manager and Grant was given the opportunity to move downstairs into the management role at Stamford Bridge. His first game ended in a 2-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford, just three days after taking control of the team. In doing so, he became the first Israeli coach to manage in the Premier League.
The fans and players initially weren’t happy with the appointment, all still upset with Mourinho’s departure but Avram managed to win them around, steering the club onto a 16-match unbeaten run in all competitions following the reverse at Old Trafford which included a 6-0 thumping of Manchester City. That was enough for Abramovich to give him a contract extension and he added Branislav Ivanovic and Nicolas Anelka to the squad in the 2008 January transfer window.
In February, the Londoners reached the League Cup final but lost in extra-time to Tottenham Hotspur to a goal from Jonathan Woodgate. A month later, Chelsea’s FA Cup defence ended with an embarrassing 1-0 loss in the quarter-finals to Barnsley. However, the Blues and the manager were showing great resilience in the other two major competitions. Late season victories domestically over Arsenal and Manchester United put them right in contention to win the Premier League title whilst Liverpool FC were beaten over two legs in a gruelling UEFA Champions League semi-final. Grant had achieved something Mourinho failed to manage – guiding Chelsea to a Champions League final.
May 2008 promised so much but ultimately produced heartbreak for everyone connected with Chelsea Football Club. Manchester United’s final day victory away at Wigan Athletic ensured they successfully retained their Premier League title whilst Chelsea could only draw at home to Bolton Wanderers.
Less than two weeks later, United and Chelsea went head-to-head in the first all-English final in the modern era of the UEFA Champions League. The game went to penalties and when Cristiano Ronaldo had his spot-kick saved by Petr Cech, skipper John Terry had a chance to win the competition for the first time for Chelsea. He lost his footing, slipped and his kick hit the post. The penalties went to sudden death and when Edwin van der Sar saved from Anelka, it was Manchester United who became the Kings of Europe. Chelsea had missed out on the biggest prize in European club football by the smallest of margins. Three days later, Grant was sacked.
Keeping the sinking ship going at Pompey
After 18 months out of the limelight, Avram returned to Portsmouth in October 2009 as their new Director of Football. Less than two months later, he was appointed manager, replacing Paul Hart in the hotseat. He took over a sinking ship. Portsmouth were bottom of the table with just seven points gained from 13 matches and the club were in desperate financial trouble.
He quickly installed some confidence into the players with home victories over Burnley and Liverpool FC and the players kept fighting, even with the huge problems off-the-field that were threatening to engulf the club’s existence. When Portsmouth were docked nine points in February 2010 for going into administration, relegation was virtually guaranteed. However, the supporters kept faith and a sensational run to the FA Cup final put smiles on the faces of the fans. They beat Birmingham City and Tottenham Hotspur to reach the Wembley showpiece where ironically, they would face his former club, Chelsea who were chasing a league and cup double. Didier Drogba’s free-kick decided the contest in Chelsea’s favour but Grant’s reputation had been enhanced in such troubling times for Portsmouth.
At the end of the season, he resigned as manager – deciding to embark on a fresh challenge but that didn’t stop the connection he felt with the supporters which he admitted to in an open letter to the fans.
“Portsmouth has given me a feeling of home away from home. I might be leaving Portsmouth physically, but you cannot take Portsmouth away from me and my heart. It’s been both a difficult and complex year for us at the club, but, at the same time, it’s been a wonderful and uplifting professional and personal experience. I have been inundated with letters and emails from fans. Many have brought tears to my eyes – and, take it from me, it takes a lot to do that.”
The Hammers nightmare
Two weeks after resigning as Portsmouth manager, Grant was appointed as West Ham United’s new boss, succeeding Italian playing legend Gianfranco Zola. However, it didn’t go well. He led the club to their worst-ever Premier League start, recording four successive defeats at the start of the season, scoring just twice and conceding 10 in that period.
His first win for the Hammers came in a London Derby against Tottenham Hotspur but by the end of November, West Ham were bottom and had enjoyed just two Premier League victories. The pressure was growing and on his job too with reports that the recently dismissed Blackburn boss Sam Allardyce was being lined-up as a potential successor.
West Ham rallied over the festive period with victories over Fulham and Wolverhampton Wanderers and a draw at home to Everton but the rumours about his longer-term future continued to grow. Martin O’Neill’s name was mentioned with the job in mid-January, especially after a 5-0 loss away at Newcastle United but he categorically ruled himself out of the running. Although they reached the League Cup semi-finals, that ended in defeat over two legs against Birmingham City and following a 3-2 defeat on the penultimate weekend away at relegation rivals Wigan Athletic which confirmed West Ham’s relegation, Grant was sacked. He’d achieved just seven league wins from 37 matches.
After the Premier League, he guided Partizan Belgrade to a fifth successive Serbian championship in 2012 and he took Ghana to an African Cup of Nations final in 2015 where they lost a penalty shootout to Cote d’Ivoire. In January 2018, he became technical advisor at Indian Super League side NorthEast United FC.