Saturday, March 23, 2019

Uncertainty overshadows Chelsea on eve of final (SN)

Chelsea's hopes that uncertainty over the future of manager Avram Grant and key players could be put aside until after the Champions League final were dashed on the eve of the biggest match in the club's history.

As Grant was forced to side-step suggestions that Wednesday's clash with Manchester United could be his last in charge, Frank Lampard revealed that his own future at the club is still up in the air.

Speculation that Grant could return to the director of football role he occupied before Jose Mourinho left the club last September have been fuelled by the failure of the Chelsea hierarchy to give him a categorical assurance that he will not be replaced by a more high-profile figure before the start of next season.

The Israeli was adamant that his eve-of-final press conference should not be dominated by the issue of his future, but that did not stop him from reminding Chelsea's owner Roman Abramovich that, by getting to the final, he had already taken Chelsea a step further than Mourinho had managed.

Asked if he might be tempted to walk away in the event of Chelsea beating Manchester United in the Luzhniki Stadium, Grant replied: “Walk away? Why?

“Look. You know we are here today, 11 days after the league finished. If it was a normal season for Chelsea, we would be on vacation now.

“We came here for what is maybe the most important game for teams in the world. I am not the most important man here. You have to respect everyone in Chelsea from the owner to the backroom staff and ask questions about the final.”

Lampard reiterated that he was happy at Chelsea — but the club's fans are only too aware that he has been saying that for nearly a year without any progress being made on a new contract for a player who turns 30 next month.

Asked if he would bet on himself being at Stamford Bridge next season, the England midfielder responded with a feint as deft as any he has produced on the pitch.

“I don't really bet too much, it would get me into trouble,” he said. “I am very happy at Chelsea. They've been the best days of my career, I've said it time and time again.

“Hopefully it (his future) will be sorted out in the summer. Now obviously is not the time to have my mind on that.”

Lampard, who has a Spanish partner, has been repeatedly linked with a move to Barcelona, who are expected to be active in the transfer market this summer, and newly-crowned Italian champions Inter Milan were reported on Wednesday to be preparing a bid.

Chelsea insisted there was no substance to the reports. “As far as Inter Milan goes, there has been no contact or offers and we are not interested in any contact or offers,” said a spokesman, adding that: “Frank's representatives have said the same.”

Inter's head coach Roberto Mancini, who has expressed interest in managing in the English Premier League, has been tipped as a possible replacement for Grant.

If that was to happen, Mourinho would be the favourite to take over at Inter and Chelsea could be left facing the loss of Lampard, Didier Drogba and Ricardo Carvalho, all of whom remain close to the former manager of the west London club.

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