There’s a fascinating feature on Fulham’s success under Chris Coleman in this morning’s Sunday Times. It obviously majors on yesterday’s magnificent win at Old Trafford, but there’s plenty of additional detail in there both on how the former Fulham captain got the manager’s job and what his future plans.
Coleman reveals that he recommended his former team-mate Mark Hughes for the coaching hotseat after Fulham parted company with Jean Tigana early:
“The club asked me about certain people and I said, ‘I don’t think there’s any chance of you getting him, but Mark would be fantastic.’ I’d played with, and under, Mark for Wales. I had total respect for him as a player, and he took to management so well, from his very first game. I remember it was Belarus away. You could tell straightaway that he could do it — he just had what it takes. He impressed me no end, and I think he’s done tremendously well to get Wales to the (Euro 2004 play-offs, considering how low we were when he took over.”
Coleman cites a succession of managers during his playing career as key influences on his own philosophy. There’s Terry Yorath for his promotion of young players, Steve Coppell for his encyclopaedic knowledge, a combination of Ray Harford and Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn and the peerless man management of Kevin Keegan. Tigana earns plenty of praise for the way he introduced modern training methods and analysis at Fulham as well as the wonderful football he got Fulham playing.
Coleman confesses that, despite his utterances to the contrary, he always wanted to succeed Tigana on a permanent basis.
“I always wanted to be a manager eventually, and once I started I just caught the bug. I wanted the job permanently. I was telling the press I didn’t, but after the first game I was thinking, ‘This is for me. I really want to do this.’ At the time, I didn’t think the players would appreciate me shouting to the papers about it, so I played it down and got on with getting results. But when I was offered it, it took me all of one second to say yes. The chairman just rang me up and said, ‘You’ve done well, I’m going to give you the job. I know you’re only 33, but I believe in you. We all do — you’re our man’.”
He hasn’t been surprised by Fulham’s start, even if both the bookies and the pundits had the Whites nailed on to be in the bottom three.
“We’ve lost three players from last season but compensating for that is the fact that we’ve got a really good togetherness, a strong bond with each other now. Our results so far reflect that understanding. There is an acceptance that we need to work hard before we can play our football. We played a lot of good football last season, but we didn’t put in the hard work. So far this time, we’ve got that the right way around, grafting first. Our strength at the moment is that we’re hard to beat. We don’t give silly goals away, and that gives us a good platform. Then we’ve got good, creative players who can make something out of nothing, so we’re always going to score goals. We’ve got to believe that we can be successful like that. The results so far have shown that’s the best way forward for us, and there’s no reason to change.”
Coleman gives much of the credit for Fulham’s tactical approach that has bamboozled plenty of bigger Premier League sides to assistant Steve Kean and insists that chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed remains as committed to the club as ever. It seems like the good times are back down by the banks of the Thames.