- Birthplace: Beugen, Netherlands
- Previous Clubs: Al-Gharafa, Al-Sadd, Brondby, Anzhi Makhachkala
- Honours: None
After establishing himself as one of the most respected coaches around, Rene Meulensteen replaced Martin Jol as Fulham boss in Nov. 2013 determined to show he is more than just a man for the training ground.
Meulensteen is another of the new generation of coaches who have come to the fore despite having undistinguished playing careers, with the likes of Brendan Rodgers and Jose Mourinho also among the members of that club. The Dutchman’s first position as a youth-team coach came when he was just 26 at NEC Nijmegen, where he stayed for three years.
The late Dutch coach Wiel Coerver acted as a mentor of sorts, and the eager-to-learn Meulensteen was influenced by his emphasis on ball handling and belief that skills were not just inherent but could be taught to players in an almost academic manner. As a disciple of Coerver, Meulensteen followed him to Indonesia and then Qatar, where the young coach took up a position with the country's under-18 team between 1993 and 1999.
“I found one of his books, read it and was totally convinced of this method,” Meulensteen later said. “I started to use the techniques and then I got results. I do incorporate other elements of course but Wiel was responsible for my career.”
A first senior position came with Al-Gharafa and a year later he moved to fellow Qatari side Al-Sadd. With a growing reputation, particularly for his focus on the development of young players, Meulensteen was brought in by Sir Alex Ferguson to work as a technical skills coach at Manchester United’s academy. His work impressed the Scot and Meulensteen was promoted to reserve team manager in 2005, guiding United to the Premier Reserve League title in his first season.
After being approached by Danish champions Brondby in 2006, Meulensteen found the prospect of replacing Michael Laudrup and testing himself as a No. 1 again too good to turn down. However his spell was a calamitous one as his attempts to put his stamp on an already winning team failed to yield positive results, leading to his dismissal just six months into a three-year contract.
A return to the more familiar surroundings of Manchester United proved more favourable. Having previously worked with the club’s younger players, he took the step up to the first team, holding the position of technical skills development officer and then first-team coach after Mike Phelan replaced outgoing assistant Carlos Queiroz. At home at Old Trafford, Meulensteen enjoyed a trophy-laden second spell under Ferguson, winning three Premier League titles, two League Cups, the Champions League and the Club World Cup.
Meulensteen’s departure from United following Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 -- David Moyes opted to overhaul the backroom staff, bringing in his own coaches -- was met with dismay among many Red Devils fans, who recognised the integral role he had played during a sustained period of success with the club.
He was not out of work for long, linking up with compatriot Guus Hiddink at big-spending Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala. Just three weeks into the job, he was thrust into the hotseat as Hiddink resigned but it was to prove another ill-fated managerial spell as Anzhi owner Suleyman Kerimov sacked him after 16 days as part of a drastic streamlining of the club.
Meulensteen returned to English football to work under Jol at Fulham but in remarkably similar circumstances to those at Anzhi, the manager was axed three weeks later and Meulensteen was promoted.
On his appointment at Craven Cottage, Meulensteen said: “I am confident because of the sort of experiences I’ve had at Manchester United. I know what is required at the top end of the Premier League. This is a different challenge with different pressure. This is about making sure you realise the need to keep three teams below you.”
Strengths: As a coach, there are few better in the world and Meulensteen possesses self-belief in abundance. Robin van Persie, Ryan Giggs and Ruud van Nistelrooy are among those to have lauded his work. He has the ability to improve players and enhance their skills -- the challenge is to transfer his unquestionable quality on a one-on-one basis to a whole team setting.
Weaknesses: Yet to prove himself as a manager, Meulensteen’s methods when in the main position of power have been questioned by some; when at Brondby, he is reported to have asked his players which animals best represented them before drawing an XI comprised of said animals on a tactics board.
Career High: Winning his third Premier League title as United first-team coach in 2012-13.
Career Low: His time as Brondby manager was an umitigated disaster and he left with his reputation in tatters.
Tactics: Meulensteen, in the inimitable Dutch way, favours a brand of technique-heavy possession football. Keeping the ball is paramount to the way he wishes his teams to play football and he also places emphasis on defending and attacking as a team, with forwards expected to put in the hard yards defensively and defenders expected to support attacks at every opportunity.
Quotes: “The way he trains is exceptional. He is truly one of the best coaches in the world. I have had a lot of good trainers, but it’s the way he prepares our team for games. Every match is different, so every training session in the build-up to games is unique. We know exactly what to expect and he wins points for us through his training” -- Robin van Persie speaks highly of Meulensteen.
Trivia: The Dutchman has his own chain of ‘Meulensteen Academies’ in the United States, which follow a self-titled coaching program designed by him -- the ‘Meulensteen Moves & Skills Curriculum’.
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