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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Grant wants to buy 'own players' after humbling by Spurs

Avram Grant has privately admitted that he "blew it" with his team selection and tactics for Sunday's League Cup final – but the Chelsea manager has told friends that he expects to be given cash to spend this summer and will use it to bring in his "own players".That would appear to suggest that Grant is aware that he has to deal with the unrest within his squad which exploded in the run-up to the match against Tottenham Hotspur. Sources close to the Israeli concede that he has made mistakes – but argue that he also needs more time before he can be properly judged.

However, it is appearing increasingly likely that the nature of the defeat – as much as the loss itself – will make it extremely difficult for Grant to continue as manager after this season unless he makes amends by winning a trophy. It did not help Grant's cause that he was out-thought and out-manoeuvred by the Spurs head coach, Juande Ramos, who, ironically, had at one time been linked with the Chelsea job.

It had always been club owner Roman Abramovich's intention to give Grant time, money and support. But the Russian will only do so if he believes the manager can eventually deliver the Champions League and improve the style of play that become such a bone of contention under Jose Mourinho. The failure to beat Tottenham, following on from the failure to beat – or even score against – Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool in the Premier League are starting to count against Grant.

It has meant that those in the Abramovich circle are already talking about who will succeed Grant, with some accepting that a change will be made. Inevitably one of the names that has been mentioned is the Barcelona coach, Frank Rijkaard, who was a previous target of Abramovich's. At present it is simply "mood music" around Grant's future but this is also how matters began to unravel for Mourinho before his sudden departure in September.

Affairs will not be allowed to reach the same acrimonious conclusion with Grant, not least because he is a friend of Abramovich, and a far less abrasive personality than Mourinho. If he is replaced as manager, he will be offered the opportunity to return to the role he first took at Chelsea – as the director of football.One source close to Grant claimed yesterday that the manager was not "under pressure" but admitted that senior figures at the club "are not happy" with the nature of Sunday's defeat. The source urged patience, and pointed out that Grant only recently signed a three-year contract, but also conceded that it's likely an "assessment" will be made at the end of the season.

Grant will plead then that he should be given the opportunity to make changes having inherited Mourinho's squad, save the additions of Nicolas Anelka and Branislav Ivanovic, the £10m Serbian defender who took part in his first training session with the squad yesterday after returning from injury.There are undoubtedly some big personalities in the Chelsea dressing room – not least John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Michael Ballack – and even Mourinho found it tricky at times to appease them all. It may be that Grant has in mind to make some radical changes, with Drogba and Lampard the most likely to leave, having already caused friction by refusing to confer on any player the "untouchable" status that Mourinho awarded to the core of his team.

It has not helped Grant's cause that Terry clashed with assistant manager Henk ten Cate on the eve of Sunday's game. The two are understood to have squared up after a training session with Terry frustrated that he did not know whether or not he would be in the team to face Spurs. Indeed several times during the run-up to the game he told friends that he did not expect to feature and claimed Lampard would also be excluded, although, it appears, the midfielder was told he would play.

Ballack was also bemused by his exclusion, while Joe Cole appeared a frustrated figure on the touch-line on Sunday and, at one point, pleaded with Grant to be allowed to come on. Ashley Cole is also believed to be furious at the way he was dropped, while Andrei Shevchenko and Florent Malouda were among those who were told they would not be needed to stay at the team hotel before the match and could travel to Wembley independently.

It may well be that Grant is simply trying to establish his authority, although that is undermined by results such as Sunday's – which was the fifth cup final, from the six he has contested as a coach, that he has lost. His hang-dog demeanour has also not helped his cause, while the fact that he is still to secure his Uefa Pro Licence, needed by all top coaches, has also undermined his credibility. Indeed he cancelled a trip to Israel this week to continue his course.

Grant has always been concerned about the circumstances under which he got the job and whether or not he could, ultimately, call upon the loyalty of the players. That is increasingly becoming one of the biggest issues to be dealt with at Chelsea.