In England Avram Grant was a nearly man. But in Africa he could be about to transform the continents nearly men into champions.
Grant has won five league titles in his career in Israel and Serbia but in England he is not remembered as a winner.
After taking over from Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in October 2007, he was not the most popular appointment among the Stamford Bridge faithful.
Had he won then things might have been different. But he didn’t. In 2008 he saw Chelsea lose the League Cup to bitter rivals Tottenham.
Grant then guided Chelsea to the brink of the Premier League title – but missed out by two points to eventual champions Manchester United. And then a week later the width of a post cost him the chance to win the Champions League as John Terry’s missed spot kick meant that it was United, and not Chelsea, who won Europe’s premier prize on penalties.
Grant was sacked in the wake of the Champions League final defeat, despite not losing a single home game. And had things been different it is not inconceivable that he could have won a treble.
He moved onto Portsmouth and in 2010 guided them to the FA Cup final where they came up against his former side Chelsea. And it was the same old story as a solitary Didier Drogba goal meant that Grant was once again an unlucky loser.
His time in England ended on a sour note as he was in charge of the West Ham side that were relegated from the Premier League in 2011.
So it is understandable that some football fans – especially those in England – not to look on Grant as a success.
But he restored his reputation somewhat when guiding Partizan Belgrade to the league title in Serbia, before quitting and taking up a new challenge.
His quest is to lead Ghana to their first Africa Cup of Nations title in over three decades.
And it is somewhat ironic that Grant could find success in Africa as he previously voiced his concern over the tournament being played in January and called for it to be moved to the summer.
Speaking in 2011, Grant said: ‘They need to do it like the World Cup, like the European Championship, in the summer.
‘I think clubs are thinking twice about signing African players, even though nobody will admit this.’
But having been appointed as Ghana boss in November his aim now is to end 33-years of hurt.
The famous names of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari do not feature in Grant’s squad. Boateng and Muntari are on indefinite suspension after being kicked out of the World Cup squad in Brazil.
And the focus now is on a younger squad with less star players. Former Sunderland man Asamoah Gyan is the most experienced member of the squad while Chelsea winger Christian Atsu, who is on-loan at Everton, has impressed with two goals in the last game.
And Grant’s belief that an averagely-talented team can achieve wonders with the right mindset certainly seems to be paying off.
Grant says he wants his players to view him as a friend first and coach second, and this approach seems to be working after a traumatic time at the World Cup in Brazil.
The Black Stars have improved since an opening-match 2-1 loss to Senegal by beating Algeria, South Africa and Guinea to reach the semi-finals.
Ghana have now reached the last four for the last five tournaments, where as hosts Equatorial Guinea have only reached this stage once before.
And despite this being his first experience of international football, Grant is not unfamiliar with the competition.
He said: ‘The Nations Cup is nothing new to me. I’ve been watching it all my life. Obviously being here is a little different to what I’ve done before but I did a lot of research and preparation.
‘We had a good training camp and I’ve had a chance to also see how the players react after losing and after wining. You saw how we bounced back after we lost our first match.’
And Grant is well aware of the importance of restoring pride to Ghana. Much like his reputation in England, they are the nearly men of African football.
In a recent interview with The Guardian , Grant explained what attracted him to the Ghana job.
He said: ‘Look at the profile of Ghana. If it were a club team we will say they’ve consistently gotten to the semi-final of the Champions League since, what, 2008? They want to go to the next level. For me, the people want a new foundation built for a winning team of the future. That is why I am here. At the time I was approached, this was the lure that clinched it for me.’
If Grant can use his methods to turn Africa’s nearly men into champions then he will not only be the toast of Ghana but also earn a bit of respect back in England.
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