Even in the phenomenally harsh world of professional football, Rene Meulensteen’s sacking as Fulham manager seems particularly brutal. After just 75 days, the man asked to halt an alarming slide once Martin Jol had reached the point of no return was also clearing his desk, having just taken a point at Manchester United and been a matter of minutes away from a creditable draw against the country’s most in-form side. As Meulensteen’s former boss at Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson, once famously remarked: ‘Football. Bloody hell.’
The suspicion even after his own whirlwind appointment was that Meulensteen might prove to be a much better coach than manager – something only enhanced by the swift addition of Alan Curbishley and Ray Wilkins to his backrom team The grim statistics suggest that his short stint in charge was remarkably similar to the start to the season which Jol presided under. Bar a spirited and frenetic hour against Tottenham, there wasn’t much of a new manager’s bounce: a battling win at Norwich was followed by the hapless humiliation at Hull and defensive disasters at home to Sunderland, who were then bottom of the table, and Southampton.
Meulensteen was open and honest in his dealings with the press – perhaps far too honest when it came to discussing his hopes of signing Ravel Morrison – and his sunny disposition hinted at a genuine belief that Fulham could pull another incredible feat of escapology. But it was difficult to decipher what his approach would be. He started with an extra central midfielder, supplementing the regular duo of Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker with the apparently ageless Giorgos Karagounis, which helped Fulham see more of the ball and begin to dictate the play. Then, the Greek veteran was unceremoniously jettisoned and the natural width offered by two genuine wingers also disappeared without explanation.
It was almost as though Meulensteen was an attacking coach at heart but the perilous nature of Fulham’s predicament paralysed his purest instincts. The situation called for dogged discipline rather than the rampaging forward that saw his side stripped of the ball far too easily against the lesser sides. The more defensive shape, with a holding midfielder and wide players tucked in to support a struggling back four, was an apparent admission that he was too gung-ho in those games against Sunderland and Southampton, which you fear might already have settled Fulham’s fate.
It is ironic then that Fulham’s best displays under Meulensteen were battling, backs-to-the-wall efforts against Manchester United and Liverpool. It was here were we saw pragmatism and tactical planning married to good effect: Meulensteen’s inside knowledge of United’s gameplan, as well as the bravery to drop the likes of Brede Hangeland and Parker, effectively stifled the champions, even if the home side should still have penetrated far more successfully with the amount of the ball they had. Against Liverpool, Fulham were far more adventurous and probably deserved the half-time lead they didn’t quite manage. Sasca Riether’s tired, late lunge at Daniel Sturridge proved very, very costly indeed.
Any assessment of Meulensteen’s brief tenure at Craven Cottage isn’t complete without considering the lamentable performance in the FA Cup replay against Sheffield United. Fulham, admittedly much changed from the eleven Meulensteen might consider his first choice, were painfully pedestrian and barely hinted at an attacking threat throughout the 120 minutes. Indeed, Clint Dempsey’s angry squaring up to Harry Maguire and company after the final whistle was about as dangerous as the home side looked all evening. That, rather than the late failure against Liverpool, might have been the night when Fulham’s panicked hierarchy decided a change had to be made.
Of course, a managerial novice was always likely to make mistakes. Meulensteen has paid for those with his job – and only future results can tell us whether that was a wise decision. But the Dutchman also restored the hunger and passion that had been missing for so long to a flagging Fulham side. He gave a first-team debut to Dan Burn, a promising centre back previously on loan at Birmingham, who has taken his opportunity eagerly and barely put a foot wrong. We’ve also seen the emergence of promising young talents in Muamer Tankovic and Moussa Dembele and the addition of Ryan Tunnicliffe and Larnell Cole – largely drawn to London by the prospect of working with Meulensteen again – hinted at an eventual reshaping of the side with the future in the mind. A progressive playmaker finally arrived in the January transfer window in the shape of Lewis Holtby, who has immediately energised a team sorely lacking creativity.
Meulensteen might not look back favourably upon his time at Craven Cottage. It ended as surprisingly as it started – and Meulensteen has returned to the north west to regroup. Fulham’s failure to mention him in the statement that spoke of his replacement was regrettable and, the real sadness is that we’re saying goodbye to an amiable man who we were only just getting to know.
Rene Meulensteen has told of his shock after being sacked as Fulham boss after just two months in the Craven Cottage hotseat.
The former Manchester United coach was replaced by Felix Magath and revealed that chief executive Alistair Mackintosh was the one who revealed the news hot on the heels of a desperately unlucky 3-2 home defeat by Liverpool.
The Dutchman told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I’m very, very surprised, (it’s) very, very frustrating because you’re trying to do something about it, but you haven’t been given time to make it work. I haven’t had a lot of time. I think people were starting to see what I was trying to put in place, I think that the two performances against Manchester United and Liverpool showed that.
“We were going back to playing some good football. I’m sure we would have turned it around. Hey, ho, that’s what happens in football. It’s not always fair. It is the story of my life with these management jobs.”
Meulensteen, who replaced compatriot Martin Jol in the Fulham hot seat in December, insisted he had a strong rapport with Khan, but was aware of the owner’s fear of Premier League relegation.
“I’ve had a really good relationship with him and good communication with him,” he continued. “They are very, very scared of being relegated and that is why they have made the decision. I knew that the owners were freaking about a bit because Fulham could be relegated, but they’ve already had that attitude 10 games back.
“Fulham have been in the Premier League a long time and I think that it is going down to the wire. They have hit the panic button on emotions of fear, but that’s what happens in football. It was a situation where I had to clear up the mess of someone else before I could building something of my own.”
Meulensteen was not aware of what the future held for members of his backroom staff such as assistant Ray Wilkins, but expressed his disappointment at not having the chance to work with players he brought to the club in the January transfer window, including club-record signing Konstantinos Mitroglou.
“I feel really, really sorry for those guys,” he added. “I still hope that they’ve got a future at Fulham.”
Fulham have replaced Rene Meulensteen with Felix Magath in a desperate bid to save their Premier League status.
Former Manchester United coach Meulensteen had only been in charge at Craven Cottage since December 1, having arrived a fortnight earlier as an assistant to then manager Martin Jol. Meulensteen had been unable to halt Fulham’s alarming slide into relegation trouble, with the club slipping to the bottom of the Premier League table, although their last two performances – an impressive draw at Old Trafford and an agonising home defeat by Liverpool – had hinted at an improvement.
In a statement released this evening, Fulham chairman Shahid Khan confirmed the appointment of Magath on an eighteen-month contract:
I am very happy to welcome Felix Magath to Fulham Football Club. Felix is an accomplished manager with multiple honours in the Bundesliga and a hunger to replicate his success with Fulham in the Premier League.
I’m especially impressed with the reputation Felix has for coming into clubs at difficult times, often late in the season, and lifting them to their potential and beyond. Felix knows that is precisely the task awaiting him at Fulham, and he made it abundantly clear that he wants and is ready for the opportunity.
Our club has shown promise in recent matches, but the fact is we have not won a league match since January 1. Given our form, we can no longer merely hope that our fortunes will finally turn. And with 12 matches remaining and at least four points separating us from safety, we certainly can no longer post empty results. Action was required.
Alistair Mackintosh did a wonderful job during the January transfer window to improve our club. This week, Alistair recommended Felix, with his history of producing results for clubs with similar challenges as ours, as the new manager of Fulham. Alistair’s recommendation received my complete approval and Felix has my unequivocal support.
Magath has never managed outside the Bundesliga in a long managerial career that saw him win back-to-back German doubles with Bayern Munich. He has also been in charge of Hamburg, Nurnberg, Werder Bremen, Eintracht Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Schalke and two stints with Wolfsburg.
Meulensteen, sounding drained and emotional, gave his immediate reaction to his sacking on BBC Radio Five Live, saying:
They have hit the panic button on emotion and fear – but hey ho, that’s football. I knew the owners were freaking out a little bit that there was the possibility of the club going down.
The way forward that we have discussed with the club was about longevity and in this case it is clearly an act of fear. I have not had a lot of time and people who came to the Manchester United and Liverpool games could see what I was trying to put in place.
An evening game under the Craven Cottage lights against a sleeping giant who we’ve been pretty successful against in the last few years. Following a determined, resolute display at Old Trafford which, on another day, could’ve yielded three points, there was a genuine optimistic buzz among the Fulham faithful. And, while we displayed plenty of that tenacity and discipline that got us that point on Sunday (only the second time ever we haven’t lost away to United, I believe?), it was ultimately a fruitless match.
We’ve said that a fair few times under Rene now: “We’ve played well but haven’t taken our chances when we had them”, or “Got terribly unlucky”. It is at least an improvement on his predecessor, but this is a critical time for Fulham Football Club, where points are paramount. Performances don’t keep you in the league, after all.
I should add that we seem to have discovered a sense of defensive discipline where there previously had been none, and this, to be fair, is cause for optimism. We have a couple of special individuals in forward positions – Holtby, who has been nothing short of 10/10 since joining, and Mitroglou, with whom we essentially lie our goalscoring hopes – and our counter attacking has been effective when we’ve managed it. West Brom won’t be so forward with their play though, and we will still be vulnerable to counters of our own when we open up a bit, but our full backs were pushed further forward and we displayed an inventiveness and freedom which we didn’t allow ourselves to against United.
Furthermore, Rene’s trust in enthusiastic youth is paying off, giving way to the toxic lethargy which has been our trademark for the last 16 months or so. A special mention must be made to Burn, who’s reputation as a player will reach the heights of his eyebrows at this rate, and Tunnicliffe, who has also come from the Championship to fit in seamlessly alongside our established midfielders. Bent had a really good game yesterday, in a thankless role, and Sidwell over the last two matches has been nothing short of a monster. As has Richardson for that matter, with Kvist’s resolve and intelligence adding shape and discipline to our midfield.
Nonetheless, this means we’ve picked up just one point from our last six games in the league while being knocked out to Sheffield United at home. No matter what they might say, morale in the team must be low, especially after such a heartbreaking loss like yesterday’s – and seriously, what the f*ck was Riether thinking when he made that challenge, absolutely appalling defending and having that linger over us for ten days is just as bad as losing a point.
We will need to go on a magical, sparkling run, one which we haven’t done for ages, instigated by our new signings, beginning at the Hawthorns in a couple of Saturdays. And of course it can be done (who imagined West Ham would be top 10 when we kicked off yesterday from where they were a month ago?), especially if we clock that balance between defence and attack… But I can’t see it happening. We’ve had a few false starts already this season, of ‘kick starting our season’, ‘xx game league’ ‘xx cup finals’, and madness would be expecting a different result. Four points behind 17th, with five needed to escape the bottom three owing to our awful goal difference, with no indication that we can pull off the wins we need… It just seems like too much.
I trust that no one else is as down as Fulham as me, because my word do the club need us to believe.
Fulham head coach Rene Meulensteen felt his side were worthy of a draw against Liverpool after another strong performance in their battle for Premier League survival.
The Whites went into the game at Craven Cottage as underdogs but were clearly buoyed by their 2-2 draw against Manchester United on Sunday.
A Kolo Toure own goal and a close-range Kieran Richardson finish had put Meulensteen’s side ahead twice, only for Liverpool to secure a late 3-2 win after Steven Gerrard scored the winner from the penalty spot.
Daniel Sturridge and Phillippe Coutinho had twice drawn the Reds level, with Meulensteen left feeling aggrieved that Fulham ended the game empty handed.
“I definitely think we deserved a point,” he said.
“If you look at the game, we got our noses in front again. We actually played quite well, were well organised, we didn’t let them settle into a rhythm. They didn’t cause us too much danger.
“Out of a nothing ball, Gerrard made a pass with the quality he’s got and they stuck it in the net so you have to start again.
“We did, we took the chance which fell for us to see us go 2-1, but they came back.”
Fulham remain rooted to the foot of the table following the narrow defeat and are four points from safety as Meulensteen rued the late penalty conceded by full-back Sascha Riether.
“What you will see from a team in this position is that they will try to hold on more than build on it,” he added.
“So you drop a little bit deeper, get the balls in the right area and stop them hurting you.
“That was the case with the Coutinho goal, letting him come inside and then there was a deflection. Then the third one was just a silly challenge that should not have been made by Sascha.”