Guus Hiddink's mandate was clear cut. A short term intervention that would halt Chelsea's spiraling fortunes which at one threatened to undermine their CL spot. In that he succeeded magnificently. Instilling discipline, excising self doubt, and getting the best out of players overlooked or playing below par under Scolari. Next year's CL appearance is assured, they play for the FA Cup final today, and their CL finals spot was cruelly snatched away by Barca. In a matter of months, Hiddink effected a string of singular achievements.
It is serves as a useful reminder that a year ago, another cruel event snatched away Chelsea's chances. The CL was theirs to win if it was not for that fateful John Terry slip on a slick surface. Chelsea went on to lose the finals to Man Utd in a nail biting penalty shootout. A visibly moved Grant had to console his inconsolable captain. More to the point, under Grant, if popular opinion was a barometer, they should not have even been contesting the final. Instead, the Israeli manager managed a feat that escaped even Jose Mourinho. In fact, till the last day Chelsea challenged Man Utd for the Premiership title after Arsenal succumbed to injuries and an inability to put away matches.
Abramovich's decision to saddle a no name as manager of one of the world's biggest clubs was clearly a wrong one. But clearly as the results prove it did not go south either. It was an impressive debut for a little know man with a thin managerial resume. The mass implosion that everyone feared did not happen otherwise Guus Hiddink might have gotten an emergency call up a year before with the exact same mandate. But Grant guided Chelsea to a CL final in some fashion without a bailout.
Grant followed not just a manager but a personality made for TV. Mourinho was a media godsend. The Premiership was all Sir Alex, Wenger, Benitez, and the Special One. Their eye catching verbal sparring was tabloid fodder and fans loved it. Suddenly, a taciturn and little know Israeli had taken over. His media interaction were horror shows. Mourinho was a tough act to follow. Clearly, the Israeli was aware he was not sexy but his football was going to be, an important distinction which he thought would make him more palatable to fans. Whether that qualitative change took place is debatable. Certainly, Joe Cole was given more freedom under Grant than under Mourinho. However from a result standpoint, Grant proved effective. He however, did not become more palatable to fans.
I remember seeing the Arsenal match when the Gunners went up a goal at the Bridge. The boos that chorused down had the commentators shamed into offering a rare defense of the embattled manager. Chelsea went on to win the match, after Drogba, in typical muscular fashion scored a brace. The Ivoirian striker had been so distraught over the departure of Mourinho, that a transfer appeared inevitable. Yet, here he was months later being as effective, just like under Hiddink. Grant may have not been a media darling but he knew a few things about keeping his players together. He gained the respect of John Terry.
"To get to where we are and to still question the manager's the role at the club is unbelievable."
Terry added, "things have been very good and results don't lie."
The CL loss made Abramovich's task of getting rid of the unpopular manager easy. He of course, went on to hire Big Phil Scolari, a huge name, whose arrival was trumpeted by many as righting the ship. Ironically, Scolari's subsequent lack of results and increasing unpopularity with players and fans necessitated the Hiddink transfusion. Its important to note in a perverse way, that Chelsea's cruel run in the CLs was kept intact under Grant. We would not have had any talking points at all otherwise.