Fulham have sacked manager Rene Meulensteen after just two months in charge of Premier League’s bottom club and replaced him with the former Bayern Munich, Schalke and Wolfsburg boss Felix Magath.
A key member of Sir Alex Ferguson’s staff at Manchester United, Dutchman Meulensteen was appointed in early December after the Cottagers fired manager and his compatriot Martin Jol, but delivered only three wins as the club slid into the top-flight’s cellar. They were also knocked out of the FA Cup by League One strugglers Sheffield United, at Craven Cottage.
The club announced the appointment of the former West Germany international, Magath as their new first-team manager in a statement on their official website. The statement made no mention of Meulensteen, but the former Anzhi Makhachkala boss, later confirmed to Sky Sports News that he had been relieved of his duties.
The Cottagers have handed Magath, who has been in management since the mid-1990s and most recently with Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga from 2011-12, an 18-month contract and becomes the third Fulham boss since the arrival of US-based tycoon Shahid Khan, who bought the club Mohamed Al Fayad last summer.
The move comes just a fortnight after the closing of the January transfer window, in which Meulensteen was allowed to sign seven players, including the likes of club record signing Kostas Mitroglou from Olympiacos, Everton’s Johnny Heitinga, Manchester United duo of Ryan Tunnicliffe and Larnell Cole, Clint Dempsey on a two-month loan from Seattle Sounders, William Kvist and Lewis Holtby both on loan till the end of the season from Stuttgart and Tottenham Hostpur respectively.
The new manager will now have time to work his squad, who are currently four points adrift of safety and 17th-placed West Bromwich Albion. The Cottagers don’t have a match this weekend after going out of the FA Cup and return to action next Saturday – away to relegation rivals West Brom.
Who is the new Cottagers Boss – Felix Magath?
The appointment of Magath comes as a huge coup for Fulham as the German is very highly reputed in European football having won the Bundesliga thrice and the German cup twice, but at the same time, one look at the man’s nicknames should tell the Cottagers’ squad all they need to know about what’s coming their way.
The new boss is an ultra-disciplinarian and his known for his notoriously hard, grinding training methods, laying heavy emphasis on discipline, fitness and conditioning. He has been dubbed as ‘Saddam’ or ‘Qualix’, a rhyming mash of his first name Felix and the German verb ‘qualen’ (to torture). The 60-year-old could make Sir Alex look like a gentle and a soft person.
Magath has managed at the very top of the game in Germany and there is no doubt about his credentials having won back-to-back league and cup doubles with Bayern Munich and the title with Wolfsburg. The former West Germany international has managed eight current Bundesliga clubs, with this being his first job outside his homeland. But his dictatorial style has made him a divisive figure, with the former Eintracht Frankfurt player Bachirou Salou once describing him as the ‘last dictator in Europe’.
Germany’s BILD newspaper revealed the incredible fine system he operated in his second spell at Wolfsburg. Some were just standard old-school discipline like €100 docked for every minute of a player’s lateness to training and €250 for wearing headphones on team bus, but the others were simply ridiculous.
It would cost a defender €500 if he let the ball bounce in front of him before clearing, €1000 would be deducted from a player every ‘unnecessary’ backpass, and in addition to this, two players – Mario Mandzukic and Patrick Helmes – were both hit with whopping €10,000 penalties for failing to follow tactical instructions in a Bundesliga game.
Not only the fines, he has also ordered dawn cross-country runs, held multiple training sessions daily and is even said to have assigned his players essays on their ambitions. One run up a Swiss mountain while in charge of Wolfsburg reportedly ended with players in tears and Brazilian striker Grafite collapsing and being carried down on a stretcher. In another tale, Magath is alleged to have asked former Bosnian midfielder Hasan Salihamidzic to perform single-arm press-ups when he had suffered a fractured arm.
His two-year-spell at Schalke ended amid player unrest, with Peruvian striker Jefferson Farfan quoted as saying: “Magath’s military methods are ugly. Their humanity is questionable. There was no communication flow – the only time he would talk to me was when he was giving me a fine. It was just work, work, work. The time under Magath was a huge strain psychologically. I would rather terminate my contract and go home to Peru than play under him again.”
Former Middlesbrough and Norway striker Jan Aage Fjortoft, who played under Magath At Eintracht Frankfurt, tweeted saying: “Dear Fulham fans. Never will you say again: Players didn’t run enough. Players don’t train enough. The boss is not clear enough. Remember The Special One? This is The Fittest One.”
Discipline and motivation is one thing, but having a set of players live in a climate of fear is something else entirely. Loads of cash do not make them superhuman, and people rarely produce their best work under threat of reprisal. However, keeping all this aside, Magath has earned a reputation during his career for saving teams from relegation and he will need to draw on those skills at Craven Cottage to keep Fulham in the Premier League next season.