Lawrie Sanchez has undermined Fulham’s preparations for their crucial match against Portsmouth tomorrow by claiming that they would not be in trouble if he was at the club. Sanchez was replaced by Roy Hodgson in December after Fulham dropped into the bottom three in the Barclays Premier League and the former Northern Ireland manager is not ready to forgive or forget.
“They dug themselves into their own hole and now they have to dig themselves out of it,” Sanchez said. “We would never have got into that hole if I had stayed. The panic button was pushed far too early.”
Fulham decided to act after Sanchez’s team won only two of their first 17 league matches this season, and they will avoid relegation if they win at Fratton Park. “The first time we dropped into the bottom three I got the sack,” Sanchez said. “I spent seven days in the bottom three. Fulham have spent one week out of the bottom three since I left. If panic had not set in they would not be in this situation.”
Sanchez replaced Chris Coleman in April last year, initially as a caretaker manager, and kept the club up thanks to a 1-0 victory against a weakened Liverpool team in the penultimate game of the season. During the summer he was given a full-time contract and £25 million to spend on new players but Mohamed Al Fayed, the Fulham chairman, lost patience when the team lost three matches in a row without scoring last December. “If Roy keeps them up he will be a hero,” Sanchez said, “but I was the hero last year and look what they did to me.”
Replacing Coleman meant that Sanchez had to give up his job as manager of Northern Ireland at a time when they were on course to qualify for the European Championship finals in Austria and Switzerland this summer. Northern Ireland had not won for nearly three years and not scored for 1,298 minutes when Sanchez replaced Sammy McIlroy in January 2004, but under the former Wimbledon midfield player they beat England and Spain and climbed 91 places in the Fifa rankings to No 33.
“I loved the Northern Ireland job and I would have loved to have seen it through, but I had to take the opportunity to manage in the Premier League,” Sanchez said. “With hindsight I could be going to Euro 2008 and I could be at the top of every Premier League club’s wish list, but I didn’t and I’m just a sacked Premier League manager.”
Although Sanchez wants Fulham to win tomorrow – “it’s a lovely club, I think they’ll get out of it” – he is waiting for a cheque that he claims will honour the terms of his contract. “One day the manager is the most important person at the club and the next day he is discarded like a tissue,” he said. “I gave up a good job to go to Fulham. They should honour the terms of my contract, but I’m going to have to drag them through the courts and that’s going to leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.”
Under Sanchez, Fulham drew too many matches and played a direct style of football that was not popular with supporters or players. Money was spent on players who have failed to make the grade, but five of tomorrow’s likely starting line-up are Sanchez signings and he would probably still have a job if Jimmy Bullard and Brian McBride had not missed most of the first half of the season with knee injuries. “I have no doubts about my ability,” Sanchez said. “If I hadn’t kept them up, they wouldn’t be in the Premier League.”