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Rene Muelensteen is not Fulham’s saviour

Matt Vincent
FEATURED WRITER
Feature
Published 03 Dec 2013, 22:22 IST
03 Dec 2013, 22:22 IST
West Ham United v Fulham - Premier League

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 30: The Fulham head coach Rene Meulensteen before the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Fulham at Boleyn Ground on November 30, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

Rene Meulensteen, the Dutch coach renowned for his excellent work at Manchester United, has taken over managerial responsibilities at Fulham following Martin Jol’s dismissal at the weekend.

Meulensteen had originally been appointed last month to work alongside Jol in a coaching capacity, but after his fellow Dutchman was dismissed following Fulham’s dreadful 3-0 defeat to West Ham on Saturday, the former Alex Ferguson protégé will now take complete control at the South London club.

In announcing the change, new owner Shahid Khan said “Rene Meulensteen was brought to Fulham to assist Martin and today was offered the challenge and opportunity to step in for Martin. I thank Rene for accepting and now we move forward. I have great confidence in Rene and high expectations for our squad to respond.”

Meulensteen is very inexperienced as a manager. The 49 year old has had only two posts as the head man in his long career. The first was an unfortunate experience with Danish club Brondby IF in 2006.  After only 7 months in charge and allegedly fighting (and failing) against a strong locker room clique for the majority, the Dutch Coach left to take care of his sick wife.

Meulensteen then returned to Manchester United in January 2007, and remained there until this past summer. After rejecting an offer by new boss David Moyes to work in youth development, Meulensteen left Old Trafford for good and ended his 12 year relationship with the Red Devils.

The Dutchman turned to Russia for his next job, working as assistant to Guus Hiddink at FC Anzhi Makhachkala. Meulensteen then replaced Hiddink after the latter’s unexpected resignation, but spent only 16 days in charge before financial hardship forced the board to terminate his contract.

Manchester United Training

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND – APRIL 06: Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Manchester United, talks with Rene Meulensteen, first team coach, during a training session held at the Carrington Training Complex on April 6, 2009 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Now at Fulham, and with only his third managerial position, Sir Alex Ferguson’s former aide has the chance to really prove his managerial credentials. Though doubts remain over whether Meulensteen is capable of making the big step from highly-regarded coach to main man.

Meulensteen, to his credit, is at least saying the right things. In his first media appearances, Fulham’s new boss identified two things vital to Fulham’s future success; the club is going to strengthen in the transfer window, and they need to start working harder.

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Everyone needs to realise we must invest,” Meulensteen told BBC Sport. “We need to look how we can strengthen this squad to ensure Fulham stay in the Premier League.” Later, the manager went on to say “We need to make sure the players take responsibility, with work-rate and their discipline.

The difference, however, between knowing what to do and actually doing it is vast. The doubts that surround Meulensteen as he takes up this post are not misplaced.

The coach is, without a doubt, a genius in the football world. However, a quick glance at Muelensteen’s CV reveals vast experience at junior level or as an assistant but little at the sharp end of football. He is at his best as a long-term developer; a skills coach working on the training ground. He is not a manager and he is not a disciplinarian.

At Manchester United, Meulensteen excelled as the skills development coach in the academy, technical coach for individual first-team players and then as a first-team coach. His technical coaching enabled the club to produce and develop truly talented footballers.

However, that is only part of Man Utd’s recipe for success. The other half came from Sir Alex Ferguson himself, acting as a manager in the most complete sense of the word. He couldn’t teach Robin van Persie how to fire a volley into the top corner, but he was the reason for the players remaining so focused and disciplined.

Meulensteen can be a great asset to Fulham, but not as its immediate saviour. He was much more suited to the second-in-command role that he was given by the Cottagers a month ago. Given time and patience without the distractions of first team management, the Dutch coach has the ability to revitalise the talent in the entire squad, and to begin to nurture new talent coming through the ranks.

That is a valuable commodity, but it won’t save Fulham’s season.

In times like these, Fulham needs a safe pair of hands. Rene Meulensteen is not that person. He has almost no experience as a manager, and he has absolutely no experience in a relegation dogfight.

He’s spent the majority of his career on the training ground, grooming some of the most promising talent in the world. He doesn’t know what it takes to stand in the dressing room of a losing organisation and give his players something to play for. He doesn’t know how to work the transfer market to find quality players on a shoe-string budget.

What Fulham need right now is someone who can do those things. They need an experienced disciplinarian with the sensibilities and tactical prowess to re-structure the Cottagers into something that at least resembles a competent football team.

Tony Pulis would be the perfect fit. Unfortunately for Fulham, the perfect man for the job has just taken the post at fellow relegation battlers Crystal Palace. Maybe they sacked Martin Jol a couple of weeks too late.

Of course, we can never really predict what is going to happen ahead. We can only speculate. Perhaps Meulensteen will shine in his new position and prove the doubters wrong. Perhaps the out-of-the-box thinking by Shahid Khan will make the owner look like a genius at the season’s end. Perhaps.

But for now, this simply looks like new ownership throwing the dice in a sport they don’t understand and gambling with his club’s immediate future. Khan has found the world’s greatest square in Meulensteen, and he’s trying to force him into a circular hole.

Logic dictates that it just won’t fit.

Modified 20 Dec 2019, 00:10 IST
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