Avram Grant (to the rescue?) at Portsmouth!
As the man who followed José "I'm not one from a bottle" Mourinho at Chelsea, Avram Grant is familiar with taking on challenges of which contestants on the Krypton Factor may have been wary.
Yet Grant's appointment as Portsmouth manager yesterday apparently requires him to display even more superpowers than he required at Stamford Bridge, where he followed a charismatic head coach with movie-star looks and a bulging array of silverware that included Premier League titles in consecutive seasons.
On the south coast Grant, who takes his opening training session this morning, has an easier predecessor to follow in Paul Hart, who was sacked on Tuesday. However, the Israeli walks into a club rooted to the bottom of the table, riven by internecine politics, crippled by debt, and now on their third owner in three months – Ali al-Faraj, the absentee Saudi.
When Grant glances at Portsmouth's imminent fixtures he is unlikely to feel any warmer. The ordeal commences with the visit of the champions, Manchester United, to Fratton Park tomorrow, while Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool must all be negotiated before the close of the year.
While any points from these games would be a welcome bonus Grant will concentrate on winning the matches against those teams above Portsmouth who are also threatened with relegation. This means Saturday week's visit of Burnley, who are 10 points better off than Portsmouth – whose tally is only seven – then the Boxing Day trip to West Ham United (four points and a place better off). These encounters will be focused on as those that have to be won before the new year.
Grant is also sure to tighten Portsmouth's formation, discarding the two strikers often favoured under Hart, a system that yielded a paltry 10 goals and has left the club as the lowest scorers in the division.
At Chelsea Grant shook up his personnel, employing Henk ten Cate as his assistant within a month of his arrival, but he will only employ a No2 if he can identify a strong candidate who is not afraid to voice an opinion, as the Dutchman was.
A further headache for Grant is that he will lose up to six players to the African Cup of Nations in January (Kanu, John Utaka, Aruna Dindane, Hassan Yebda, Nadir Belhadj and Kevin-Prince Boateng, if Ghana call him up). He is also hindered by his limited ability, due to the club's finances, to recruit in the next transfer window – if the current Premier League embargo is lifted – though he will look to bring in three or four players then.
While Grant will have to live up to one nickname he picked up in Israel, the Magician, he does have some advantages, such as an intimate knowledge of Portsmouth, having spent a season there in 2006-07 in the director of football role he signed back up for last month. He has accrued vast experience during a 37-year career, which includes winning the Israeli championship at both Maccabi Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa, before spending four years as the national team head coach.
Additionally, as a man who spent his three years of mandatory military duty in the Israeli secret service, he is among the brightest operators plying their trade in football changing rooms, with a reputation for being a players' manager.
The Portsmouth and England goalkeeper David James said yesterday: "I love Avram, he's a great guy. When I first joined the club he was there and very active in his preparation for matches. He is a very wise man and his football knowledge is immense."
Grant will require all that wisdom during the coming months. At Chelsea he negotiated the constant scepticism regarding his appointment and the club's fractured internal politics cleverly enough to reach the 2008 Champions League final, only losing it by a penalty shoot-out to Manchester United, while also taking the team to second place in the Premier League.
Grant is under no illusions, though, about how difficult keeping Portsmouth up will be – the size of the task was a consideration when he weighed up whether to accept the job.
However, if he can save the club from relegation Grant will have greatly enhanced his reputation, while ensuring Pompey mushes everywhere have a very enjoyable summer contemplating another year of Premier League football next season.