Clever compromise at Fulham

Posted by Phil Mison

Rene Meulensteen’s appointment as head coach Wednesday is Fulham’s best signing since Mark Hughes persuaded Mousa Dembele over from Belgium in 2010. I greet the news with an enormous sense of relief, while congratulating the executives on their strategy.

It remains to be seen if Fulham played a long game over courting the highly-regarded Dutch coach, or if it was simply a case of money talking at the end of the day. I suspect the latter -- because in the autumn we all assumed any move for Meulensteen had been blown out of the water by the money on the table from Qatar. I seem to recall we had quotes from all parties to that effect at the time.

My antenna twitched 24 hours ago, when I heard Rene was back in the UK and planning talks with Crystal Palace. Why the Qatari gold bars suddenly lost their lustre we shall wait to find out. Without firing Martin Jol, and thereby saving themselves the considerable expense of settling up the outstanding seven months on his contract, Shad Khan has seen the wisdom and financial logic in swinging that capital Meulensteen’s way.

Of course, Fulham will never reveal any details on the move. Suffice to say, as I’m certain all supporters will agree, something drastic simply had to be done to turn the club around. We’ll not expect miracles from the Number Two to Jol from the get-go, but through his vast experience with Manchester United one assumes Rene will soon get to work whipping the side into shape.

-Beckham's son trains with Fulham

When you can stand on the training ground and bark, “Well this is how we used to do it at United,” there’s not much comeback you can expect from that. One senses significance too that Meulensteen is cast as 'Head Coach' and not Assistant Manager to Jol. Rene looks to be having a free rein in preparation and tactics – pray his advice is also heeded before Jol goes marauding in the January window.

It will be intriguing to observe the body language on the touchline and how the personal dynamics develop. The team we saw drag themselves off the park at the weekend had clearly stopped playing for Jol. He’d lost the dressing room, and can count himself extremely lucky to still be employed at Fulham. But it would be no surprise to see him walk away next May.

Rene may indeed be the stalking horse that keeps Jol humble. Should he still want to dictate selection on match day and have the last word on transfers -- and if he continues to get things so badly wrong, Fulham now need little excuse to show him the door any time they want.

Perhaps it is just as well Fulham have a further 10 days of the break for the new Dutch pairing to instil a little self-belief back into the side. They were an absolute rabble at Anfield. One has rarely heard such ringing condemnation of any Premier League struggler as Fulham attracted Saturday. The Whites are playing the worst football in the league by some margin and look every inch relegation certainties.

The days since that disgraceful showing against Liverpool have been fraught. Supporters have been at their wits' end wondering what the club were playing at. Now we know. CEO Alistair Mackintosh it would seem has pulled it off again. With no great upheaval the club preserves continuity with its current 'plan'. The move has been made in good time to save a side that was certainly heading into the Championship.

The players will hopefully be galvanised, become fitter, while the fans can look forward to the Swansea and West Ham games with some optimism rather than dread.

There’s still plenty of hard work to be done, dead wood to be shipped out, and hopefully fresh impetus and hope given to emerging stars from the Academy. But you don’t spend all those years alongside Sir Alex without doing something right. Following Fulham for the past year has been horrific. They have stepped back from the brink -- and just in time.

Credit to Shad Khan and all who have made it happen. Meulensteen cannot don a white shirt and get on the park, but as of Wednesday it seems Fulham have rediscovered the ambition of Mohamed al Fayed’s early years. Putting up the cash to secure a man with Rene’s coaching credentials shows clear intent. Who else in the Premiership would not refuse his services? It is a long time since Fulham acted with such ambition.

Twitter: @fulhamphil


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