Meulensteen worked alongside Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United
With Martin Jol’s Fulham performing desperately poorly and a trend of rolling over with no tactical cohesion emerging ever more profoundly over recent weeks, many had expected a new man taking charge at Motspur Park by the time we had returned from the international break. Even I, as someone who had supported Jol for the majority of the last 12 months, had decided we needed change urgently, as the fundamental problems and disconnect between coaching, management and performances manifested embarrassingly in our recent high profile games (no doubt why the media has finally picked up on just how poor we are, but they have really sunk their teeth in to Jol over the last week or two – deservedly).
And yet, Fulham made an announcement that appeared to strengthen Jol’s place as manager with the addition of ex-Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen. Unless the new man decides to stage a coup, it appears that he is there to support Jol and help solve all the issues we are having. Firstly, credit to the club for the appointment. Meulensteen is no idiot, in fact he is a coach of immense calibre and has been celebrated by many top players at United (for example, Van Persie called him the best coach he has ever worked with). A lot of the progress Ronaldo made from petulant winger to the greatest goalscoring threat currently playing football can be credited to Meulensteen, and with the amount of ability we have at youth level I am excited at the prospect of Meulensteen working with them to help nurture and develop their talent. Moreover, as we have seen too much in the near past, there appears to be a distinct lack of constructive coaching – there is no pattern to our play either defensively or offensively, no well drilled shapes or worked moves, just 11 individuals out there on the pitch. You would hope that this area will now be addressed.
I think there’s also a great plus that we will have a strong personality in the changing room. Meulensteen has not been quiet about his ambitions to become a manager of his own, and maybe this is too simple to make the connection but arguably our collapse started with Ray Lewington’s influence dissipated a couple of months in to last season. Surely someone else having a word in Jol’s ear can only be a good thing.
It’s not all good however, While Meulensteen has been praised for his coaching ability, there have been some quite concerning words about his management over in Denmark. Rich over at CCN has a nice little excerpt for you to read, so while I am glad Meulensteen is here as a coach I’d prefer it stayed that way, even if Jol were to leave when his contract expires this summer.
So, on the whole, the addition of Meulensteen means good for Fulham I predict. But what will it mean for Jol? Well, I’m not sure how far Meulensteen’s influence will stretch. Jol must trust him to take care of the coaching if he is going to employ him as a head coach, but tactically will he have any authority? He will have an opinion no doubt – and an informed one worth listening to at that – but I imagine it is up to Jol’s discretion. Similarly, could he take responsibility for promoting youth players (an issue that is apparently some source of disharmony at the club)? Or how about transfer targets, with Jol citing a desire to play 4-3-3 before spending all summer trying to get Darren Bent one such baffling example. Or fitness (Taarabt?! How can someone who runs all day every day be so chunky?)?
I think that to get a coach of this calibre, Jol must have played a part as he has done with all of our more high profile players signed under his tenure, and I think we will see some improvement in the way we play. However, I do feel that some more broader issues will remain until we pass over the head of management completely. Either way, a big welcome to Meulensteen, who has injected some optimism in to Fulham Football Club at a time where there’s very little to celebrate.