So today is the final day of the much derided Avram Grant’s managerial reign at West Ham. For most, including me, this is the end of a very sorry chapter in the history of my football club. I have been on the record from the first, onerous day that he was unveiled as the new manager, that he should never have been appointed. My suspicions about the decision making of the owners of the club, messrs Sullivan and Gold, the two Davids, Gollivan by other words has always been high, ever since they bought the club last year.
Their first move was to brief the press against the incumbent manager, Gianfranco Zola, a true gentleman and a proper human being who only wanted the best for his players, the club and the supporters. The two David’s did not want Zola. I still am not sure why, but they felt he was not their man, did not have the right experience and West Ham were not exactly high in the table when they bought the club. So after much agitating in public and through the media, many pundits and observers suspecting that the owners wanted to make Zola break the terms of his contract and thus save paying him off, Zola duly left the club, along with his number 2, Steve Clarke at the end of the season.
The owners claimed that they wanted a more experienced manager, one with a proven track record and one who could execute the long term plan that the owners had for the club. Appointing Avram Grant never got near fulfilling that brief and you have to wonder what the logic, or indeed the commercial reason was for this decision. Indeed the so called long term plan has never been shared with the supporters. As I see it, the long term plan is focused on moving the club to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford. According to the PR this is all part of ensuring that the Olympic legacy is not lost and that the stadium is retained and used for athletics , which was a core promise made by Lord Coe on behalf of the London Organising Committee for the 2012 Olympics. That is all very good and very noble, but the owners’ decision to pursue this bid, is of course money orientated. And that is no bad thing at the end of the day. Rumours are that the Upton Park site has had planning permission for residential development granted, and estimates range on that deal realising £150 – 200 million profit for the club and its owners. In one fail swoop the debt would be wiped out and the club would be financially stable and solvent.
Decisions are always a key part of leadership. Even if the decision is ‘no change’ those who are in charge need to ensure that they are exactly that, in charge and capable of making decisions. Ever since the two David’s made the decision to appoint Avram Grant, they have been less than certain that their call was right. For me it was always wrong, but there is a school of thought that says once you have made a decision, you should stick by it and give it time to work. The speculation about Avram Grant’s future has been rife and in recent weeks, the club’s owners have made all sorts of noises. He was told that he had three games before Christmas to get at least one win. That sort of ultimatum is a daft one. Suppose West Ham lost their first two games and won the third, do you then keep the manager? Equally if they win the first, is he off the hook and therefore there is no real motivation to get results in the next two? All in all it was a stupid thing to say in public or in private and not the sort of thing you expect from any leaders in any walk of life. As it was West Ham won one game and drew two – a very good set of results given their previous form. And the rumours started again.
Thus on Tuesday this week, before an important Carling Cup semi final first leg, when Martin O’Neill was spotted at the club, we all knew that the end was nigh for the manager. Clearly the owners had decided that his time was up, but they wanted, quite naturally to seek a replacement before pulling the trigger. But why would you interview a potential replacement at the club, for staff and by passers to see? Why not somewhere private? Was it the need for the owners to be seen to be making a decision? Are they that paranoid that they want the media and supporters to know that they ‘really do know there is a problem and are doing something about it’? Indeed the rumours got stronger that Grant would be sacked on Wednesday after the board of West Ham would meet. Today, news broke that Grant will no longer be the manager, but that decision will be announced tomorrow, Sunday, after our home game against Arsenal. He will be replaced by Martin O’Neill.
This sort of approach smacks of being somewhat seedy, cheap and actually wrong, even if the decision is absolutely right. If the owners appoint the manager, they have the righ to remove him, but please don’t go about your business in this way. It lacks dignity and leadership in every way.
At least Avram Grant has acted in a dignified way and is making no comment. More rumours suggest he has already struck a deal with the club. A pay off is always the upside of any manager’s hurt when he inevitably loses his job. I wonder when the game against Arsenal finishes around 7.30pm today if Avran Grant will wave his goodbyes to the fans and the players and sail off to his next port of call. Indeed I wonder if he will raise a smile. That would really be a first, the last time I saw him do that was when he arrived at the club.