Chris Coleman has spent the summer being told that his tenure as the Premier League’s youngest manager could be very short one. In an interview with the Times, he tells the story of a shopper at his local newsagent warning that he won’t last long in the Fulham dugout. His family have swiftly pointed out every time a pundit has tipped his team for the drop or suggested that he’ll be sacked. That only seems to fire him up – and, as the likeable Welshman points out, he’s been through far tougher times all too recently.
“Shock horror. I couldn’t get any lower than I was after the car crash and going through rehab, that’s for sure. Some days I didn’t even want to get out of bed, it was so devastating. So whatever happens as a manager couldn’t be any worse than what I was going through then.
Every month they get a spanner and tighten the nuts on the outside and it squeezes the bones tighter. You can hear a bit of grinding. The surgeon says I can do it myself, but I haven’t dared. It’s a pain in the arse on crutches, but in another five or six weeks I should be out of the woods. Hopefully by Christmas I will be training with the players.
I will never come to terms that I effectively had to retire at 30. I’ll carry that to the grave. I got back into the reserves, but, although I was pretty close, I was still miles away. I wasn’t struggling but I couldn’t do what I wanted to do. I was in a lot of pain. I knew it for months, but I didn’t have the balls to end it. I’d been playing football all my life and it’s hard, you know.
Doing this job has cushioned the blow. You are so busy, 24 hours a day. A lot has been dealing with agents, which I have to say I haven’t enjoyed at all. The rest I can take, although it annoys me when I read stuff about the mood at the club. Those people should see the players train, see how much they are enjoying it. They should see the smiles on their faces.”
Coleman freely admits that his progress along the coaching journey has been far quicker than he had been expecting after accepting Jean Tigana’s offer to join the Fulham backroom team when he had to admit defeat in his lengthy quest to resume his playing career after that fateful car crash two and a half years ago.
“The original plan was to have a slow start to coaching, a month with every age group in the academy. I had only done four weeks when Jean brought me in to help with the first team. He wanted me in there communicating to the players and it wasn’t a problem for me. I had already been doing it as captain. We were playing Jean’s tactics, but I would probably say more at half-time.”
His input on the coaching side and undoubted influence in the dressing room made him an easy appointment as Tigana’s interim successor when Fulham pulled the plug on the Frenchman’s reign with the club uncomfortably close to the drop with five games to play last season. Coleman wasn’t sure he wanted the job full-time and initially recommended his former Welsh international team-mate Mark Hughes, but he soon caught the managerial bug.
“Sparky’s a great manager, so I put his name forward before I got offered the job. I loved playing for him and he is the reason for Wales’s success now. I could have learnt from him, but, when it didn’t happen, I believed that I could do it myself. I know people are saying I am too young, that I can’t do the job, but I wouldn’t have taken it if I didn’t think I could do it.
The club showed a lot of faith in me five years ago when they bought me for a lot of money, again after the accident and now in appointing me manager. That is a lot to live up to, but I believe I can. The chairman has been brilliant, but, whatever relationship we have, I am under no illusions that there will be changes if I don’t do the business. He hasn’t appointed me because he likes me.”
Coleman is realistic about the club he has taken over and admits that the ambitions and largesse might have been scaled down since he dropped two divisions to be one of Mohamed Al-Fayed’s first big-money acquisitions.
“We are a good club, a nice club, but we won’t ever be Arsenal or Chelsea. The first season we came up, there was a lot of talk about Europe and maybe I got carried away myself thinking about it. Now everyone expects us to fail and we can use that to our advantage. We aren’t the rich kids down the road any more.”