The first Chelsea FC manager to guide the Blues to the UEFA Champions League final, Avram Grant regards his time at the club as one of the highlights of his career – despite the unfortunate way his side lost the 2008 decider to Manchester United FC.
Now in charge of FK Partizan, who he steered to the Serbian title last month, Grant looks back fondly on his time at Stamford Bridge even though the London side were the nearly men on three fronts during a 2007/08 season in which he replaced José Mourinho a month into the campaign.
As well as losing out on penalties, the John Terry slip and all, in Moscow, Chelsea finished runners-up in the Premier League and succumbed to Tottenham Hotspur FC in the League Cup final. "Every time you achieve something you think that it is the highlight of your career," Grant told UEFA.com.
"Considering the public opinion, to reach the Champions League final with a team like Chelsea, after they started the season not so well, and to play the football that we played … it's the highlight."
What links Grant and Roberto Di Matteo, the man who will try to go one better than the 57-year-old on Saturday by guiding Chelsea to victory against FC Bayern München, is that they were both appointed while the season was in progress.
Grant, who was director of football at the club before succeeding Mourinho, has been impressed with how former Blues midfielder Di Matteo has stepped up from his role as assistant to André Villas-Boas, who was dismissed in early March.
"He has done a great job," said Grant. "He took over when Chelsea weren't playing good football and results weren't so good. Everyone will say you have nothing to lose when taking over a team in this instance, but you need to win something. They have won games when not playing well."
Another former Chelsea man, Eidur Gudjohnsen, does not "see any reason" why the Blues cannot prevail in the Fußball Arena München even with Branislav Ivanović, John Terry, Ramires and Raul Meireles all unavailable through suspension. "They have shown in recent games that the bigger the challenge the better they've played and the more organised they've been."
Defensive fortitude will certainly be key to Chelsea's chances of negating the threat of Mario Gomez et al, and winning Europe's premier club competition for the first time. "Bayern are very quick on the wings and Gomez is a big presence – he is a big, strong, typical centre-forward who has been scoring a lot of goals," added Gudjohnsen, who registered 54 of his own in 186 league appearances for Chelsea.
"Collectively Bayern are very good. We saw it against Madrid, when I thought they probably outplayed them at times in the second leg. And obviously Bayern are playing at home, so there is a big threat. It's a Champions League final, you are always going to come up against a big team, a quality side, and whoever you play you just have to make sure that you are at your best."
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