Chris Coleman’s was a story you could not have made up. From the lowest of despairs to the highest heights and then back again. The burly Welsh centre back was captain of the Fulham side that charged up two divisions and, under Kevin Keegan, made a dramatic arrival into the Premier League.
In early 2001, though, disaster struck for him, an injury he sustained in a car crash ended his playing days forever. However, after Keegan had left, and the Jean Tigana experiment ended in tears, there was many a raised eyebrow when the 33 year-old was appointed manager with absolutely no management experience on his CV.
In addition, Coleman was greeted by the news that club chairman Mohamed Al-Fayed was no longer going to bankroll the club in terms of transfer fees, as he had done under Tigana, when sums like £11 million were outlaid on expensive flops like Steve Marlet. Oh, and he was also told that he was expected to keep the club in the Premiership.
Many in the media were sceptical, and predicted Fulham would sink like a stone with Coleman in charge. But in his first season, the “other club” in SW6 finished an amazing 9th. The following season saw them finish mid-table, in 13th, and that without their star turn for most of the season – Louis Saha leaving for Manchester United in the January transfer window. In 2005-2006, they were had one of the best home records in the Premiership, beating the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea on their way, though their away form was dreadful.
2006-2007 has been hard for The Whites, they have slid down the table quickly in recent months. But, with only a month to go, and after daring to criticise his board for giving him next to nothing in terms of a transfer kitty, Coleman was shown the door.
Although his replacement, Lawrie Sanchez, has shown that he can do the business with Northern Ireland, this is was short-sighted appointment. Sanchez, too, has no Premiership experience, and years of international football management at various levels will not have prepared him to organise a team in the latter stages of a bitter relegation dogfight.
Fulham’s remaining fixtures are Liverpool at home and Middlesbrough away, and though their opponents in both games will lack motivation, neither of these games are easy.
Liverpool have much bigger fish to fry, with the Champions League final coming up, but every player Rafael Benitez fields will be fighting to prove themselves worthy of a place on the team sheet for May 23rd. Boro, with the likes of Viduka and Downing, can also hurt Fulham, who have one of the worst recent away records in English football.
Financial analysts Deloitte have calculated that missing out on Premiership football could cost clubs up to £60 million, and with a small ground that does not always fill up, and no more blank cheques from Al-Fayed, if Fulham do drop down to the Championship, there may well be no way back for them.
Their record under Sanchez so far is 0 wins, 1 draw and 2 lost. There is no indication that things are on the up at Craven Cottage, and with West Ham and Charlton both putting up a fight at the bottom, Fulham’s position looks very uncertain.
Sacking Coleman, a manager who has done the club proud with almost no resources at his disposal, was a spiteful and ultimately self-destructive thing to do, especially with no real Plan B. A run of 15 games with only 1 win is poor by any standards, but allowing for the fact that their outstanding player of 2006, Louis Boa Morte, was released for a paltry £5 million, the board have not helped themselves one bit by their decision. Sanchez and Fulham may just have to pray for results elsewhere in London to go their way.