Pre-season for a Premiership manager can hardly be described as dull. When Chris Coleman walked into the House of Commons on Thursday on club business, it was just the start of a varied and hectic journey. Last night brought a friendly at Luton, today Fulham’s manager heads to Russia to watch and speak to a player and tomorrow he travels to Austria for preparations including facing Real Madrid – breathless stuff and the league campaign remains four weeks away.
A manager’s work is never done, even over the summer. Coleman did enjoy an extended family break but even then his phone was ringing. The job demands non-stop availability and Coleman’s commitment to matters beyond Fulham’s first team was demonstrated on Thursday as he mingled in the members’ dining room at the Commons for the launch of the club’s community sports trust, which reaches out to 250,000 children.
“The phone’s always on because you have to be accessible,” Coleman says, “but I just made sure I was out of the country for as long as possible to get away from it, not reading newspapers, not listening to the radio and just getting away from football as much as I could because the job is very demanding and it’s not 10 months of the year, it’s 12 months of the year. That’s not a complaint, because I love my job; it’s a fact.”
Transfer activity has peaked again for Coleman of late. Yesterday Franck Queudrue was having a medical as Fulham sought to sign the defender from Middlesbrough before late interest by Charlton. Last week Coleman showed his ambition by putting together a lucrative package aimed at luring Lilian Thuram from Juventus, though the defender moved to Barcelona.
The manager has found the process of signing players far more complicated than he imagined. “Before I took the job I thought I could say: ‘Listen, these are the players I want, however you get them, just get them. And if you can’t, we’ll get some others,'” Coleman says. “In an ideal world that’s the way it would work but it doesn’t work like that. I have to be involved. On a scale of one to 10, I am involved 10. If you really want a player you have to impress that player to come to your club. And if he’s a better player than you’ve already got, you have to really push the boat out and leave no stone unturned.”
Today’s trip to Russia underlines that. Coleman says he makes it clear to targets whether he envisages them as squad players or regular starters and visits them “wherever they feel comfortable”, be it at their club, home or a restaurant. “It’s all about us impressing them,” he says. “If you agree a price with a club and get permission to talk to a player, if that means flying to Russia or America or wherever, you have to get out there and sell your club, your team, your thoughts and ideas.”
Coleman’s input stretches to wages as he watches his budget and ensures salaries reflect an individual’s worth. He is happy with this squad. “Top 10 is a realistic target for us,” he says, and the fitness coach Steve Nance has been helping to get the team in shape with a tough regime including swimming and boxing.
“I wouldn’t say our players like him but they certainly respect him,” Coleman says. “The boxing is not one-on-one in the ring, it’s pad work. Particularly after they have had a tough day on their legs, running or playing football, and we want to do cardiovascular work but save their legs, using their arms and upper body strength all comes into it.”
Tiredness is a familiar feeling for managers, too. “With the job comes a lot of pressure and expectation and a lot of disappointment along the way, so I really enjoyed the break,” Coleman says. “I spent a bit of time with my staff having a bit of fun and relaxing, and a lot of time with my family. My batteries are recharged and I’m looking forward to the season.”