Rene Meulensteen has spoken publicly for the first time about the circumstances behind his sacking at Fulham – and he believes that he was beginning to turn the corner in the club’s battle against relegation from the Premier League.
The Dutch coach, now in charge at Maccabi Haifa, has given a revealing interview to journalist Raphael Geller, which is being broadcast on the BBC World Service’s World Football show this evening. Meulensteen, who was also sacked after just two games in charge of Russian club Anzi Makhachkala, maintains that he was starting to steady the ship after a draw against Manchester United and a last gasp defeat to title challenging Liverpool, but regrets that he wasn’t given the time to see the job through by the Fulham board.
Meulensteen, who was originally brought in to bolster Martin Jol’s coaching staff, eventually succeeded the Dutch coach as Fulham’s head coach after the former Tottenham boss was sacked in December. He speaks engagingly about the task he inherited – feeling that he had to get ‘some energy back into the club’ after the dire tail end of Jol’s reign and believing that, in hindsight, he could have adopted Tony Pulis’ survival strategy to cure Fulham’s defensive woes. He welcomed the opportunity to discuss his shortlived spell at Craven Cottage, saying:
It is actually a good opportunity to come back to that scenario and elaborate a little bit more about it, because sometimes fans are being left a little bit in the dark about what really happened. In hindsight, if people say how do you think you did and how it went, first of all I needed to put some new energy not only in the team – but also in the club, to get them back playing with energy and excitement. I thought we established that.
If you ask me, would you have done something different? In hindsight, I would say yes. I would be very honest with that. I think I should have gone more to a sort of Tony Pulis strategy – to get clean sheets on the board, make sure you are hard to beat and play from there. I mean that with the utmost respect. We were actually moving in that direction when we were playing Manchester United away – where we got a draw. Then we had to play four days later Liverpool and we narrowly lost to a penalty in the 93rd minute. That was very unfortunate. And that’s when the club decided to make a change. That to me was not only very disappointing but very, very frustrating because we all knew – everybody in the club knew – that we were just turning the corner. That was the real disappointing thing, because we knew, at that time, if we kept carrying on, we’ve got a good chance of staying up.
Meulensteen, whose reign also included an embarrassing FA Cup exit at the hands of lower league Sheffield United, was swiftly replaced by German manager Felix Magath – but Fulham slipped out of the Premier League before the end of the 2013/2014 season. Fulham fans never really got to know the real Meulensteen, lauded as part of Sir Alex Ferguson’s coaching staff at Old Trafford, but someone who was clearly learning on the job as a manager himself at that point. The full interview is well worth a listen here.