Eight weeks after his sacking as Fulham manager, Lawrie Sanchez refuses to accept the lure of indolence. Each morning he runs for five miles through the streets of Swallowfield, the village near Reading where he lives, determined to keep body and mind sharp in case the chance to lead a club presents itself again.
“I’m open to everything but I consider myself a Premier League manager. I’ve worked at that level now, despite being sacked after only eight months,” said Sanchez, whose activities since leaving Craven Cottage have included a skiing trip to the Canadian Rockies. “It should be remembered I was brought in to keep Fulham in the Premier League and I did. Seventeen games the following season, I’m sacked. It was a shock to the system.”
His exit came because Fulham won only two of those 17 and, after a 1-0 defeat to Newcastle on December 15, slid into the bottom three. A change in the dugout was deemed necessary and Roy Hodgson was appointed two weeks later.
Sanchez, who had replaced Chris Coleman in April when Fulham were four points above the relegation zone, accepts that the early-season run was alarming but is upset at not being given more time to put things right. “I undertook what was perhaps the biggest rebuilding of a Premier League club that’s ever been attempted,” the 48-year-old said. “In the month I had at Fulham last season, I made it clear the squad needed to be rebuilt and we went about that process. I believe the squad is now better than the one I inherited.”
Under Sanchez, Fulham brought in 15 players and offloaded the same number, at a net cost of £13m. Most of the arrivals have, however, failed to establish themselves, with the £6m Diomansy Kamara the most expensive of the underachievers.
Criticism of Sanchez’s legacy extends to his style of football. Again he feels hard done by. “I like my teams to be attacking, which means putting plenty of balls into the opposition boxes and making sure my defenders do not lose the ball in their own half. These are basic things all managers do. I’ve been tagged ‘direct’ because I played for Wimbledon but most football these days is direct. At the end of the day I just want to play winning football.”
The success of those tactics with Northern Ireland is beyond dispute. They sat 124 in the Fifa world rankings when Sanchez took over in January 2004; by April 2007 they had climbed to 33rd, but then Fulham insisted he work full-time. “I said it at the time and I still feel it now, I could have done both jobs simultaneously,” he said.
His success with Northern Ireland, and with Wycombe Wanderers before that, strengthens his conviction that he could have reversed Fulham’s slide given more time, helped by Jimmy Bullard and Brian McBride, who are only now back playing after long-term injuries. Sanchez insists McBride would have been “instrumental” to his side had he stayed fit. The American is now playing for Hodgson, of whom Sanchez said: “Roy coached me when I was 12 years old. I saw him again on my Uefa Pro Licence refresher course four weeks ago and wished him well. He has nothing to do with my sacking.”
Sanchez remains bitter. “I haven’t had any offers yet,” he added. “Some people don’t think I’m a good manager. I need to get out there and prove them wrong.”