United boss Ferguson has one Champions League title in 21 years but Chelsea's Grant could match him after just eight months

Practically unknown beyond the Portsmouth city limits less than a year ago, Avram Grant could tonight become one of the most celebrated figures in European football's recent history.

The Chelsea manager will certainly secure a lifetime's gloating rights in London if he can steer Chelsea to victory over Manchester United and in doing so match the number of Champions League successes of his acclaimed counterpart Sir Alex Ferguson.

Grant's meteoric rise is without precedent in the modern European game and success tonight would provoke much head scratching at Stamford Bridge, where they have backed off endorsing the Israeli as the long-term successor to Jose Mourinho.

Avram Grant (left) shares a joke with Henk Ten Cate

High spirits: Avram Grant (left) shares a joke with Henk Ten Cate

Previously Harry Redknapp's director of football at Portsmouth, Grant took over from Mourinho in September. He did little to ease worries about his lack of top-level experience in his opening games, losing 2-0 to United and drawing at home to Fulham.

Then there was that Carling Cup Final defeat against Tottenham and an embarrassing FA Cup exit at Barnsley.But look at him now.

He took Ferguson to the last day of the Premier League title race and could be about to make his mark on the pages of football history alongside names like Fabio Capello, Marcello Lippi, Guus Hiddink, Giovanni Trapattoni, Mourinho and Ferguson.

In terms of football pedigree Ferguson towers above Grant and the Israeli admits: "I have nothing but respect for Sir Alex as a manager and as a person."

Evidence of Grant's admiration for inspirational personalities can be found hanging on the walls of his house and workplace  -  depictions of figures such as Winston Churchill, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali.

You suspect that Grant would like to generate similar levels of respect of his own, and he could go a long way towards achieving that tonight.

What is difficult to assess is just how important the Grant contribution has been in the last few months.

Questions were asked about his tactics and his use of substitutes after the 2-1 defeat to Spurs in the Carling Cup Final in February but he'd got his strategy right by April, when a 2-1 win over Manchester United threw open the title race.

There is no doubt that he inherited a wonderfully accomplished team but a Champions League Final is new territory for him if not his squad, eight of whom have played in the final before.

But Ferguson dismisses Grant's lack of experience at this level as an irrelevance.

"It won't make any difference," he insisted. "My first European final was against Real Madrid but I didn't shrivel.

"It's how you approach things that counts. It's something to relish. It's an opportunity for Avram, just as it is for me."

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Sir Alex Ferguson

History calling: Sir Alex Ferguson (centre), who is on a mission to improve United's European Cup record, talks on his phone during a United training session

There are few in football with a better knowledge of both men's managerial strengths than Arsenal's Arsene Wenger and he believes the game is so close to call that it could turn on a decision by Slovak referee Lubos Michel.

The Frenchman said: "A final is a final and it's very hard to predict. Both teams have a lot of experience so it will be very tight. You saw in the semi-finals that every decision of the referee can influence the result.

"It's that fraction of a second, too difficult to decide if it's offside or not. Is it a penalty or not? It is so tight between teams at the top in England. For me every big game has been decided by refereeing decisions.

"I'm not surprised Avram Grant has done well. He will be judged over a longer distance. He is a guy who has worked with teams before and had success in Israel.

"What you have to accept is that you can work in Finland, Israel and if you have some qualities to handle a team it can work at Chelsea as well.

"It's not only one or two guys who can do it. Grant is my age so he's got some experience. He has a completely different style to Mourinho but that doesn't mean he's not good. He doesn't say all day 'it's only me'. Everybody thinks because he doesn't say that that he's bad. That's not right. You look at what people do and what they say, does it make sense, how they act? I like his style.

"The Champions League Final is now like an FA Cup Final. Usually in the last 10 years the top four would contest the FA Cup Final. Now the top two of the Premier League are in the European final. That shows you how much the Premier League has improved."

Even on a shabby, hastily-prepared pitch here in the Luzhniki Stadium, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez provide United with potent attacking momentum though double Footballer of the Year Ronaldo has yet to score against Chelsea in 12 outings.

While United can outwit opposition with cunning and guile, Chelsea are more likely to use the power of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Michael Ballack.

In any war of attrition in midfield Lampard and Ballack, supported by anchor man Claude Makelele, are outstanding. They grind down rivals and Ferguson must know that he cannot allow Chelsea to dominate these areas. Bolton refused to be intimidated in their visit to Stamford Bridge and came away with a 1-1 draw.

Grant's tactics will be designed to ensure Chelsea seize the initiative in midfield as they did in the soporific FA Cup Final win over United last year. He can also take encouragement from the Blues' excellent record against Ferguson's men, who have won only two of their last 13 competitive match-ups.

For United, who may find the pitch more to Chelsea's liking than theirs, the big challenge involves disrupting the outstanding centre-back partnership of John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho.

Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic are similarly proficient in the heart of the United defence and they may have fewer problems controlling Chelsea's lone striker, Drogba, who many feel will be making his last appearance for the club.

Whether it's the same scenario for Grant, regardless of an historic victory, remains to be seen.

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