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Football

Avram Grant opens up on Zambian expedition

AVRAM GRANT

Avram Grant reflects on 50-year coaching career and reveals why he has been galvanised by Zambia role.

  • Avram Grant is coach of the Zambia national team
  • He speaks exclusively to FIFA about his ambitions in the role and storied career
  • Grant’s previous positions include spells in charge of Chelsea and Ghana

“Most of all, I love the pressure.”

Avram Grant is explaining what keeps him coming back for more aged 68 and over half-a-century into his coaching career.

Grant was just 18 when he wholeheartedly threw himself into a vocation that would take him across the globe and to some of football’s greatest stages.

His journey from coaching Hapoel Petah Tikva’s youth team to his current role with Zambia has featured success, heartache and tumult in equal measure. His competitive fire burns as brightly as ever, however, and he is convinced his vast experience can help propel Zambian football forward. “I was looking for the right challenge,” said Grant, who was appointed in December 2022.

“I was presented with a vision for football in Zambia and I thought, ‘Why not? I’d like to do this’. It was the right job for me – and I love Africa. I think the atmosphere here is amazing. I like the culture. The people are very free-spirited. And as a football guy, I love how much talent there is within Africa.”

Zambia have made significant progress under Grant’s watch. Last year, they achieved Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualification for the first time since 2015, booking their spot with a stunning 3-0 win over Côte d’Ivoire, who went on to win the competition. And while Grant’s side suffered a group-stage exit at AFCON, their performances provided much cause for optimism. They drew with Tanzania and DR Congo and were edged out 1-0 by FIFA World Cup 2022™ semi-finalists Morocco – a game Grant insists “we deserved to win, not even draw”.

“We have improved a lot in all areas of the pitch,” said Grant. “Our game is organised, we defend well, we attack with all the team. Apart from the game against Morocco, since I came in, we have scored in every game. I am very happy with what we have done – but we need to do even more.”

Grant’s focus is now on his team’s upcoming FIFA World Cup 26™ qualifiers. They have taken three points from their opening two Group E games and will resume their campaign in June when they face AFCON adversaries Morocco and Tanzania.

“They will be big challenges, of course,” Grant said. “There is no doubt Morocco are stronger than us, but we must never give up. We know our place, but we will give everything. I think people would say it will be hard to qualify for the World Cup. But when we played Ivory Coast, people also said we had no chance. I said, ‘So what?’ We beat them not just by one goal, but 3-0.

“It was the same when I became coach at Chelsea. I remember all the articles saying, ‘they have no chance, no chance, no chance’. Nobody thought we could do well. Then we played great football, reached the Champions League final and were close to winning the Premier League.”

Grant’s spell at the west London club represented his most high-profile role of his storied career. Having initially been appointed Chelsea’s Director of Football, he took over the coaching reins from Jose Mourinho after the Blues made an indifferent start to the 2007/08 season.

“I inherited a team with a lot of problems,” said Grant. “Jose had done a very good job but this year and the year before, it was not the same. And the media were saying it was ugly football. But after a short time [with Grant as coach], we played fantastic football. Every month we were better. We beat all the big teams.

We beat United, when Sir Alex Ferguson said that was the best team he ever had, we beat Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, we beat Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals – getting to the first final in Chelsea’s history. A lot of Chelsea supporters have told me that was some of the best football they have seen.”

Grant’s side ultimately came up agonisingly short in their bid for silverware. United beat Chelsea to the Premier League title by two points before Ferguson’s team edged them on penalties in the first all-English UEFA Champions League final.

“I still have a lot of great memories from that season,” said Grant. “It was a pity about the penalty shootout. During the game [which finished 1-1 after extra time], we hit the post, we hit the bar… Even Sir Alex said we were the better team that night.”

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