"To be honest" is a phrase much used by the youngest-ever manager in the Premiership. Candour is his creed. Listen to his thoughts on the prospects of his own survival at Fulham. "I am under no illusions. If I don't get it right, I imagine, in the first 10 or 15 games of the season then I fully accept that I am going to get the sack. That is the way it is," says Chris Coleman, 33 years and two months old and brutally exposed in the management stakes at a club in ruinous peril: no ground, huge losses, not enough fans and with a squad and an owner suffering from questionable commitment.
Coleman adds: "The last thing I want to do is see this club fail and if I am not producing the goods then I will probably walk anyway. I want to see the club do well. We deserve to do well and have worked hard to get to where we are. And if I am not the manager to carry us through another season in the Premiership then maybe someone else should come in. I am confident I can get it right and I will be giving everything I have got."
After the enigma of Jean Tigana, there is the frankness of this impressive young Welshman whose career as a forceful and commanding defender was cut short by a car crash two winters ago that should have claimed his life. Its effects are still there - Coleman is back on crutches after an operation in the summer to repair damaged scar tissue in his leg - but this is one patient who craves no sympathy.
"I knew when I took the job on what people expected," Coleman says. "No one expected me to do well because of my inexperience but that is fine. The only way I can shut people up is by winning games and getting it right on the pitch." He denies feeling irritation at the pundits who have predicted relegation, although most have also, incidentally, been unequivocal in their belief that Coleman himself has the ability to succeed. "I have done Sky [television] a few times and been asked to give my opinions. That is the pundits' job and I understand that. I don't think there is any malice," he says. "But I cannot wait to come out and prove them wrong."
Despite the multi-millions of the Tigana years, Coleman knows his squad is anaemic. The only new arrivals so far are Jérôme Bonnissel, a left-back picked up on a free transfer, the Middlesbrough reserve goalkeeper Mark Crossley and the Arsenal defender Moritz Volz, on loan. Yet despite the departure of Steve Finnan - and the likely transfer of Sean Davis - there has not been the exodus of some of Tigana's expensive (and, of course, highly paid) French signings. Maybe that is due as much to the depression in the transfer market, although there is a new-found energy, determination and, thankfully, openness at Fulham which is widely ascribed to Coleman. There is also, at last, hope for the future in some of the young players coming through such as Malik Buari, Zesh Rehman, Mark Hudson and Adam Green.
Lee Clark, captain in the absence of Andy Melville, is clear in his belief. Coleman is forging a team whereas before they were just a collection of individual talents. "There is a great spirit and a great togetherness that was not there before," he says. "You cannot just make a football team by buying good players."
Indeed, as Fulham struggled last season, Tigana, to his credit, recognised they missed leadership and fast-tracked Coleman through his coaching staff, where he had been working at the Academy (the director of which, Steve Kean, is now his assistant). It was often Coleman's voice that was then heard in the dressing-room, and its effect did not go unnoticed when Tigana and the club's owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, finally parted company.
The job was offered on a temporary basis and Coleman went on to collect 10 points from the last five games to ensure survival. The first match was against Newcastle United - whose manager, Sir Bobby Robson, has been a coach longer than Coleman has been alive. After that victory Coleman knew he wanted the post full-time.
"People were asking if I wanted the job and I was saying 'no' but I was already hoping and praying that I would get it," he says. So was that a rare piece of disingenuousness? "I think at the time there was a lot of pressure on the players and the last thing I felt I should do is shout my big mouth off, saying I wanted the job. That would have only added more pressure on the players to do well. But I always wanted it."
Still, he took soundings from other managers before accepting Fayed's offer of a one-year rolling contract to become the club's seventh manager in seven years.
One of those he talked to was Ray Harford, his former manager at Blackburn Rovers, who died from cancer on Saturday. "I asked him what it was like to be a manager and he was just telling me that because he has had so much experience in the game, and I know that because I played for him, I should go for it," Coleman says. "It is terrible that he is no longer with us."
With typical forthrightness, he adds: "I talked to a lot of people. To be honest, if they had said 'don't take it', I was still going to take it. Opportunities like this do not come around too often and a lot of people said that I should wait a bit longer because you could get the sack after five games. I could wait another three years to get the sack after five games. I thought I should do it while I get the chance.
"I have not got a three-year contract and £20m to spend and a bit of time to build through the kids and so on. I have to do it now. Now is my time and so I have no illusions about that."
So it has been a steep learning curve - although Coleman has not taken up Fulham's offer of employing a more experienced figure to help guide him. "I don't want to fetch anyone in on a part-time basis, not on the football side of things anyway," he says. "When I took the job, yes there was a lot of pressure, but if I am going to fail then I want to fail by making my own choices and not other people making it for me.
"If there is someone upstairs then maybe they want to do things their way and I am down in the dressing-room with the lads and I want to do it my way. You can get crossed wires and I don't want that.
"I was offered the job and I took it and I will do it to the best of my abilities. I will make all the decisions about the players and the way we play. If it works, great. If it doesn't, then it is my fault and I understand that. Maybe I would like to bring somebody in to talk to agents and so on because I don't like that." Indeed, for a straight talker such as Coleman, contract negotiations have left him "tearing my hair out".
"I did not realise all the stuff that went into negotiating and the twists and turns in one deal," he admits. "I won't mention any names but I tried to sign one or two players and the negotiations were beyond me."
Given that one of his early summer targets was the former Nottingham Forest striker Pierre van Hooijdonk, it is easy to guess whom he may be talking about. Coleman may now take up the offer of help - to conduct future negotiations at least. Someone, perhaps, such as Alan Smith, his old manager at Crystal Palace and a regular visitor at Loftus Road.
Pre-season has been patchy - a new training camp in Austria went well with a narrow defeat to Roma, but this was followed by disappointment in Scotland against Motherwell and Livingston - and Coleman knows the importance of a good start. "If we start as we ended last season then we have a good chance," he says.
Fulham will also modify their style of play this season. It will be more direct, more committed. Just like their manager.Reuse content