'He'd tell stories about his dog during team talks' - How ex-West Ham and Chelsea boss Avram Grant inspired Portsmouth to reach 2010 FA Cup final

Team-talks focused on walking his dog, no complication of tactics, and humility loved by the players.

By Neil Allen
Friday, 14th May 2021, 4:56 am
Updated Friday, 14th May 2021, 7:29 am
Avram Grant led Pompey to the 2010 FA Cup final against Chelsea. Picture:Steve Reid
Avram Grant led Pompey to the 2010 FA Cup final against Chelsea. Picture:Steve Reid

Jamie O’Hara has lifted the lid on how Avram Grant inspired Pompey to reach the 2010 FA Cup final.

Saturday marks 11 years since the Blues faced Chelsea at Wembley.

The outcome was a 1-0 defeat, as Carlo Ancelotti’s men sealed the Double following their Premier League triumph.

Yet, against all the odds, Pompey had reached the showpiece occasion, overcoming the blow of relegation and administration to book their date.

Blues manager Grant took over from Paul Hart in November 2009 and would win just five of his 25 Premier League fixtures.

However, it was in the FA Cup where Pompey truly flourished, beating Coventry, Sunderland, Southampton, Birmingham and Spurs along the way.

O’Hara, who was a pivotal player under Grant in 2009-10, told The News: ‘Avram’s a lovely bloke, a really nice guy.

Jamie O'Hara speaks highly of Avram Grant, who managed him at Pompey in 2009-10. Picture: Robin Jones/Digital South

‘He wasn’t really tactical, he didn’t do much in that respect, he just let you play. It was “Just go and play”.

‘He would tell stories about his dog when he was doing his team talks.

‘I remember one time we had a big Premier League game and you were expecting him to do a team talk about how he wanted us to play – and instead came out with stories about walking his dog.

‘Avram was using it as a way of explaining the game, using his dog as an analogy. We’d all be standing there thinking “I don’t know what he’s going on about”. Then end up laughing.

Avram Grant's final game as Pompey boss was the 2010 FA Cup final - before leaving to manage West Ham. Picture:Steve Reid

‘Sometimes it was just the way he was to lighten the mood. He was a bit strange at times, but I genuinely really liked him, I thought he was brilliant.

‘He was a manager who didn’t say too much, but just let us play. I think sometimes you can over complicate it with too many tactics, but he kept it simple.

‘Avram was very similar to Harry Redknapp in the way he let you play. Just go and play lads, go and enjoy it, go and express yourselves and work hard.

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‘He was just a nice guy, his door was always open if you wanted a chat about anything. Always approachable, always smiling. A top man.’

Wembley would be Grant’s final match in charge of the Blues.

Just five days later he resigned, later being unveiled by West Ham on a four-year deal at Upton Park.

The Hammers would be relegated in that first Grant season – and he was sacked hours after their May 2011 fate had been confirmed.

Yet Pompey fans – and his players – will always be grateful for steering the club to the 2010 FA Cup final.

O’Hara added: ‘I remember being injured with my back and he was obviously worried about me playing in the FA Cup final.

‘I said: “Please Avram, I’ve given you everything this season, I might not be 100 per cent, but I’ll give everything I can for as long as possible, just start me”.

‘He said he would – and kept his word. I played in that final when potentially he could have left me out. He rewarded me for what I had given in the season.

‘The Premier League was a bit of a disaster, with a points deduction and players not getting paid, it was hard, constantly having meetings about what the next step was.

‘But Avram took the pressure off us in that run and that went in our favour. It was kind of an escape for us.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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