LONDON - Roman Abramovich has told Chelsea's fans to get used to Avraham Grant - because he will remain in charge of the team.
Billionaire Blues owner Abramovich broke his silence over Jose Mourinho's exit when he amazingly invited Chelsea fans in off the streets of Spain. He bought them drinks in the lobby bar at the Hilton Hotel in Valencia, Spain, hours after the club's Champions League victory on Wednesday night. Advertisement
The small group of supporters were told it was time for Mourinho to go because the arrogant Portuguese manager had started to believe he was bigger than the club. And Abramovich told them they must trust Grant.
"I love Jose and will always love him because of what he did for Chelsea - but nobody is bigger than the club," Abramovich reportedly told the fans. "I understand that you are upset he has gone but things had not been right for some while and the time was right for a change.
"I want you to trust me that Avram is the right man and he is a permanent appointment. There will be more additions to the coaching squad but Avram is here to stay.
"You could see tonight against Valencia we still have a great spirit in our team."
Abramovich, who hates the media spotlight, has embarked on a charm offensive with the Stamford Bridge faithful after being stung by criticism of Mourinho's departure and Grant's appointment as head coach.
When Abramovich arrived at the Valencia Hilton around midnight, after Chelsea's 2-1 victory at Mestalla Stadium, he told his closest aide, Blues director Eugene Tenenbaum, that he wanted to speak to fans. There were no Blues supporters in the hotel bar, so Tenenbaum sent a bodyguard to trawl the streets for Chelsea fans ... and to invite them to have a drink with the wealthy club owner.
Few Blues fans were staying at the hotel, about 3.5 kilometers from the city center, so it took Abramovich's bodyguard some time to find any of the 1,200 Chelsea fans who had traveled to Spain. "It was a wonderful gesture from Roman to invite us in to the hotel to meet him," a fan said. "But some of the fans didn't believe this guy when he said 'Come and have a drink on Roman Abramovich' so they missed out!
"Roman spoke about his love for Jose but clearly wanted us to try to understand the reasons why he had to go. You got the impression, from what he said, that Jose had started regarding himself as a god.
"I don't know if any of us were convinced that Avram Grant is going to be anything other than a stop-gap manager, but I think we left the hotel thinking that at least Roman cares what we think and is still totally committed to the club. "He speaks better English than he lets on and I don't understand why he doesn't front up in the media."
Abramovich drank with fans until the hotel bar closed at 1:30 A.M. and posed for photographs with several of them.
As fans remain skeptical about Grant, the majority of Chelsea's players apparently share their unease. One England player has privately claimed the Israeli's team talks were even less inspiring than those of Sven Goran Eriksson.
Doubts over Grant are also splitting the Blues hierarchy, with different factions briefing Abramovich about the best man to take over from Grant.
Ajax boss Henk Ten Cate is being touted to be lined up as Grant's assistant, arriving at Stamford Bridge during the two-week international break that follows yesterday's 1-0 Premier League victory over Bolton.
Sporting director Frank Arnesen wants Guus Hiddink to boss the side, alongside fellow Dutchman Ten Cate, but Blues chief executive Peter Kenyon favors former Italy boss Marcello Lippi.