Exit Tigana, enter a smaller future for Fulham
Sunday 30 March 2003
There is a symmetry to Jean Tigana's hiring and firing by Mohamed Al Fayed. Three years ago, the Frenchman accepted an offer that his friend and former international team-mate Michel Platini described as "impossible to refuse". On Tuesday, he declined one that Fayed knew he could never accept.
The Fulham chairman was well aware that Tigana is too proud to be forced to take a 40 per cent pay cut, particularly as the Frenchman was persuaded out of self-imposed retirement to take up the Fulham challenge in the summer of 2000. Tigana, who has plenty of other interests, including a vineyard and businesses in the south of France, was only ever prepared to do the job if the money was right.
This is not to say that Tigana does not take pride in his managerial work. Once he made the decision to swap the pleasures of Cassis for the rigours of the English First Division, the 46-year-old showed an unquestionable commitment to the cause.
Results followed, too, as Fulham won their first 11 games of the season on the way to the title. Since reaching the Premiership in May 2001, they have had an acceptable two years. Survival is no mean feat for a newly promoted club; nor are an FA Cup semi-final and a maiden Uefa Cup participation to be sneezed at. There are bigger clubs who would happily settle for such a record, and Tigana's successor – presumably an emerging British coach, such as the former Ipswich manager George Burley, who can work without spending any more of Fayed's money – has a tough act to follow.
The problem with Fulham has been their image. In the eyes of most, they have paid their way to the top table. But what of Middlesbrough or Sunderland, two clubs who have been equally free with their spending and yet have had no better results? Fulham have failed to set the Premier-ship alight, and some of Tigana's buys have been poor. Even in the inflated market of two years ago, Steve Marlet was never worth £11.5m. His transfer from Tigana's old club, Lyon, is now the subject of a Fifa investigation.
But not all Tigana's acquisitions have been questionable. Steed Malbranque was bought from Lyon for £4.5m and will be sold, probably as early as the summer, to Liverpool or perhaps Chelsea for at least double that. Meanwhile, Steve Finnan and Sean Davis have been brought through the Fulham ranks and could also leave for substantial fees.
Money has undoubtedly played a major part in Fulham's recent history. Tigana has spent big during his time in SW6 – £43m on more than 16 players – but then what manager wouldn't if he was given carte blanche by an over-ambitious chairman? Not Bryan Robson or Steve McClaren at Middlesbrough, and not Peter Reid at Sunderland or David O'Leary at Leeds. Like O'Leary, Tigana has been labelled as an irresponsible spender. But, like O'Leary, Tigana was not the one signing the cheques.
The Egyptian millionaire had a dream of making Fulham the "Manchester United of the South" and was prepared to stop at nothing to achieve his ambition. Stopping, though, was exactly what he should have done, to think about the implications of his spending strategy.
As one close friend of Tigana told me: "I believe the real reason why the chairman says he will no longer bankroll the club is simply that he can't. He [Fayed] was happy to put his hand in his pocket a few years ago because it suited him to bolster his image. But since 11 September, tourism is down in London and Harrods is suffering. The manager has been made the fall guy when it is the chairman who should be blamed."
The tycoon's decision to find a permanent residence in Geneva after losing a legal battle to retain his special tax status in Britain adds further to the impression that he might be looking to cut his losses.
If Tigana has to admit that he has underachieved on the pitch considering the budget at his disposal, then Fayed must shoulder the responsibility for the way the club's off-field affairs have been handled. Spending policy apart, it is the débâcle surrounding Craven Cottage that most confuses. Having originally promised supporters a redeveloped stadium for the beginning of the season after next, the Fulham hierarchy have since sold an option on the land to developers, searched for a different site for a new stadium, then changed their minds on both those decisions, before lately suggesting that they may simply return to the Cottage once it has been given a lick of paint and had extra seats bolted on to the existing stands.
If Fayed understood sporting egos, he would never have appointed Franco Baresi as director of football last year. Or he might at least have warned Tigana before the deal with the Italian was agreed. Baresi eventually left in November, but irreparable damage had been done. When Tigana leaves at the end of the season, Fayed may still be in Switzerland, but what ofFul-ham's once-lofty ambitions?
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