A gamble that failed to come off

CHRIS LAKEY "It's great to be back home." It was early afternoon in a Glasgow bookmakers and the rush was on to get money on Peter Grant becoming the next manager of Norwich City.


"It's great to be back home."

It was early afternoon in a Glasgow bookmakers and the rush was on to get money on Peter Grant becoming the next manager of Norwich City.

By late afternoon, the club, reluctantly and probably miffed that some Scottish prospectors had stolen their thunder, confirmed his appointment.

The Scots' sudden interest in all things Norfolk on October 13, 2006, has never been fully explained, the only real link being that Grant was born there and played for Celtic.

Norwich City had hoped the cementing of Anglo-Scottish relations would be the beginning of a beautiful relationship, rather than just another Friday afternoon flutter.

Most Read

With parachute payments having already landed and been blown away by the chilly winds of the Championship, they needed a surefire bet, not a risk.

They needed someone they could trust, someone they knew. They asked Peter Grant to win them the lottery that is Premiership football.

And while few in the past 12 months did more for cross-border unity than Grant , as he transformed one corner of Norfolk slowly but surely into McCarrow Road, it was a plan that would ultimately fail.

Grant brought in four Scotsmen, plus a Scottish coach, plus one player - Julien Brellier - from a Scottish club. He even started loaning players back to Scotland. And if a journalist was ever short of a story, there was always a speculative link with a Scottish player to be had somewhere if you looked hard enough.

It wasn't quite Bannockburn; Grant didn't repel all things English, but he made sweeping changes to a squad which, having started the 2006-07 season so well, had fallen like a pack of cards around Nigel Worthington's ears.

It has never really been established who was to blame for the slump which led to Grant's reappearance in Norwich, seven years after he had played his last game for the Canaries.

What was clear was that something had to be done - and what is clear now is that however you regard Grant in terms of success and failure (many still pin the blame on the board of directors), he cannot be accused of sitting back and waiting for things to happen.

But there is a difference between doing something and making something happen - and one look at Norwich City's position in the Championship table would suggest that the latter never really happened.

A day after his appointment, Grant had watched from the directors' box at QPR, ironically, as City drew 3-3, to drop two places to 19th position.

Now, one year on, after the game against QPR last Monday, they sit in 21st position and Grant is out of a job.

City are worse off than when they started with Grant - and after losing to the bottom side twice in the space of a fortnight, something had to give.

As always happens, it's the manager. And it's usually mutual.

The motion "this house deems Peter Grant to be a failure" has arguments and counter-arguments, but more than that it has mitigation.

It's not a black and white question: being worse off in the table can hardly be described as being a success, but perhaps we weren't quite through the opening chapter of the Peter Grant story. Perhaps his was a work in progress, destined never to be finished.

Perhaps there is more than an element of truth in the suggestions that not all of his players were upset when they heard the news.

Once the players give up, there's little hope for the manager. But Grant said from the beginning that it was his squad, they were his players - not once did he suggest that he had inherited a poor squad from the previous regime.

Over time, his players may just have turned against his methods.

Grant was nicknamed Peter Pointer as he stood on the touchline, like a whirling dervish, hardly able to contain himself in the confines of his technical area as he directed operations and then looked to the skies in frustration as a player, two players, all his players fail to carry out his orders. A recurring theme of his reign was that the players hadn't performed, that they didn't have the intelligence to carry out his orders.

It had been a very different story after his first half dozen games in charge when everything in the sky above Carrow Road was rosy. Very rosy. Grant spoke his mind and we liked it - again, maybe some of the players didn't.

An unlikely win at Birmingham was followed by a home win over Cardiff, but Grant wasn't happy: "We have got to work on a lot of improvements. It's a long road, but hopefully we can work on that in the coming months."

It was the first sign that Grant would be a hard man to please.

A 5-0 thumping at Stoke followed, and Grant blamed the players. He wanted it to be remembered as a blip, and wins over Sunderland and West Brom suggested it was, although by then Grant had lost defenders Gary Doherty and Craig Fleming to injury.

The win at The Hawthorns was the fourth 1-0 scoreline under Grant's stewardship - a sign of things to come perhaps - but the fact that it elevated Norwich to ninth in the standings is only worthy of mention because that's as good as it got during his reign.

City were brought down to earth big time with a 3-1 defeat at Ipswich which left Grant describing his team as "unimpressive", "very disappointing" and "awful".

"If you don't do the fundamentals well you are going to struggle in a game of football, and we suffered the consequences," he said.

The fans were hurting too, although spirits were hardly lifted when Grant had a pop at them for not cheering the team over the line against Hull in November.

It was harsh on City's supporters, but Grant refused to back down and, after less than six weeks in the job, he was already in danger of losing a powerful ally.

His own cause wasn't helped by a run of just five games without a win and, come the end of 2006, City were 15th after a 1-0 home win over QPR.

By that time, Fleming - a man whose heart and soul was at Carrow Road - had left the club.

The first two months of the new year were punctuated by FA Cup commitments, trips to Tamworth and Blackpool earning a day out at champions Chelsea.

City were beaten 4-0 but widely praised for their performance. But no one knew which gear Chelsea had reached. On the league front, two wins in two months was not good news - nor was the loss of leading scorer Robert Earnshaw, the full consequences of which would be felt much later.

Goalkeeper David Marshall had come in on loan from Celtic - he would return later - along with fellow Scots Simon Lappin and Mark Fotheringham.

Grant had also made the loan signings of Chris Brown and Luke Chadwick permanent.

But it was the emergence of a local product, Chris Martin, and the goal-scoring form of Darren Huckerby, which gave City fans reasons to believe that the play-offs were more than a dream.

Those who had seen Martin in the youths and reserve team knew only too well he had talent: he also had a touch of arrogance that matched Huckerby's.

Between them they kept the flame burning. For a while.

City's problem was a lack of consistency: win away one week, lose at home the next. Beat Birmingham and Stoke, lose at Colchester.

The season was clearly over - it was just a case of getting into a respectable finishing position and starting work on the next campaign.

Wins over Birmingham and Stoke plus a victory at Worthington's Leicester was about as good as it got as City ended the season in 16th place - but everyone was looking forward to seeing what Grant would do over the summer months.

He cleared out some dead wood in Paul McVeigh and Peter Thorne, but while he managed to bring back old boys Jamie Cureton and Darel Russell, his preparations were ruined when Earnshaw and Etuhu - or their agents - felt it was time to move on.

Buy-out clauses in their contracts were triggered and off they went, to Derby and Sunderland respectively, for a combined fee of £5m, well short of what City would have wanted.

But such clauses are a fact of life in football and, much as Grant disliked the way it all panned out, it's likely he's pulled the same stunt.

Managing to secure Marshall's services full-time was arguably Grant's best summer move after the ridiculous merry-go-round between the posts last season, but trouble was just around the corner, in the shape of Youssef Safri.

The crowd favourite was a few minutes late for the annual team photo.

Grant told him to leave the ground and then said Safri had been a trouble-maker ever since he had arrived, that we, the media, hadn't listened - although few of us could remember the manager actually telling us the player was spinning us a yarn.

Safri, he said, would never play for City again. Within days he was a Southampton player.

Earnshaw, Etuhu and Safri had gone - three high quality players. If they had stayed, where would City be now? Surely not in the relegation zone.

Grant brought Jimmy Smith in from Chelsea on loan but lost him to injury in the summer, while Mark Fotheringham followed him into the treatment room at the beginning of September.

His best laid plans had gone out of the window, which has been pretty much in evidence after the opening couple of months of the season.

The cobwebs were shaken off at Preston in a goal-less draw, but the home win over Safri and the Saints was somewhat fortuitous.

Defeat at Hull was followed by a loss at home to Cardiff, and questions were being asked.

An unconvincing home win over Palace followed, but it's been pretty dire since then.

Wolves away was simply so bad that serious questions were being asked of Grant's ability to do the job.

City haven't been able to buy a goal and have been struggling to buy a point: did anyone ever envisage that a 0-0 draw at home to Scunthorpe would be seen as inspiring confidence?

Then, in front of the TV cameras, Grant's future was decided. A 1-0 loss at QPR, where Grant had first clapped eyes on his team just short of a year ago, did for him.

Supermodels in the crowd got more shots than City did that night. It was dire. Grant looked a beaten man. He hardly left his post beside the dug-out.

In fact, hardly anyone appeared to put their head above the parapet.

The gamble had failed.