It is early July, but the pundits have already pre-determined everything. Fulham are going down, Chris Coleman will be the first Premiership manager to be sacked and life is destined to be miserable. What’s the point in even starting the season? If it all seems a little preposterous, then that’s probably because it is. You would have thought the youngest manager in Premiership history might be afforded a little bit of respect after bouncing back from the devastating end of his glittering playing career to keep a club looking destined for the drop in the top flight by winning three of their last five games having taken over from Jean Tigana at short notice.
Coleman is clearly a fighter. Anyone who has met him knows that the former Fulham skipper has an unmistakeable aura about him. It is not difficult to imagine players busting a gut for him on the field. Allied to his obvious motivation skills will be the fact that he won’t accept second best. His managerial acumen might still be developing but there were enough signs last season – such as the way he switched to a five-man midfield and brought back Lee Clark and Sylvain Legwinski for his first game against Newcastle and won – to suggest that there’s a bit of nous there.
Nobody should pretend it will be easy but Fulham have flirted with the drop before without going down. Much is made of the fact that they will be in exile for another season at Loftus Road, but the prospect of a return to a redeveloped Craven Cottage should give everyone a real lift. There’s also the inescapable fact that Coleman will have some serious football talent at his disposal. Yes, Fulham have lost Steve Finnan and desperately need a new right back but the new manager can still call upon the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Alain Goma, Clark, Legwinski, Steed Malbranque, Luis Boa Morte and Louis Saha. That’s not a bad spine upon which to build.
Coleman’s challenge will moulding his team into one that can deliver consistently amongst English football’s elite. Fulham have sparkled sporadically in the Premiership to date, but not been able to put together sustained spells of strong form. He will have to solve our woeful away form, which has been a real hindrance, but were he to stick with the 4-5-1 system that proved so successful during his caretaker tenure, you would have a solid base that would make Fulham tough to break down. Some of Fulham’s football in the final third has been spellbinding – a front three of Malbranque and Boa Morte either side of Saha pose real problems for defences if they are fit and firing.
I find some of the summer doom and gloom wildly misplaced. Coleman beat off a number of big names to land the permanent job precisely because he knows Fulham and has demonstrated the ability to deliver positive results. There’s no reason why that shouldn’t continue, never mind what the talking heads proclaim.