For the Fulham owner Mohamed al-Fayed, the pieces of the jigsaw have fallen into place like a dream. His 11-month marriage of convenience to Mark Hughes ended without the club owing anyone a penny, and in the early hours of yesterday they finalised a two-year contract with Martin Jol, the manager Fayed had wanted all along.
Jol, 55, was last seen in English football in October 2007 when he heard of his sacking by Tottenham Hotspur in a text message midway through a Uefa Cup tie with Getafe. The Dutchman's return to the Premier League comes 11 months after he agreed terms to follow the departing Roy Hodgson as Fulham manager, only for Ajax to refuse to release him from his contract.
According to sources in the Netherlands, however, Fulham kept in close contact with Jol in recent months, particularly since he decided in December to resign as manager of Ajax after a run of bad results. Jol is understood to have told Fulham that he was keen on taking a break from the game, and he has spent the past few months at his home in the seaside town of Scheveningen, playing tennis and socialising.
Fayed was very taken with Jol when they spoke a year ago, when the former Tottenham manager verbally agreed a three-year-deal worth £1.7m a year. Nothing was ever signed, but the two sides kept in touch over the intervening 11 months, despite Hughes being appointed as manager last July.
Jol has told friends that he was puzzled but also flattered by Fulham's consistent interest in him, unsure quite what he had done to merit it. At any rate the club's persistence has had its reward, as Jol has turned down interest from Aston Villa and Wolfsburg to take up the reins at Fulham, where he will be given around £15m to invest on new players this summer.
Jol has agreed an initial two-year contract at Craven Cottage, worth around £2m a year, with the option of a further 12 months, and becomes the club's third manager in as many seasons. Fayed promised yesterday the appointment will herald a period of greater stability.
He said: "I would like to welcome Martin Jol to Fulham. He understands my vision for the club, and believes in what we are striving to achieve here. I know that he will dedicate himself to helping us move forward, and is with us for the long term, to help us build and progress. We have enjoyed three incredibly successful years, and my hopes and dreams for this club are for that journey to continue. I know with his wealth of experience and success, Martin is the right man to help us."
Jol arrives with an impressive, if not overwhelming, record in management. His playing career included three seasons in England with West Bromwich Albion and Coventry City, and he returned to this country in 2004 as assistant manager at Tottenham to the Frenchman Jacques Santini, after 13 years working as a coach in the Netherlands. Santini resigned in November that year and Jol took over, leading the club to a ninth-place finish, enough to earn him a new three-year contract.
In 2006 he led Tottenham to fifth place, missing out on a Champions League place when players were hit by food poisoning (from a lasagna) hours before the final game of the season. They finished fifth again the following campaign, but continued clashes with chairman Daniel Levy ate away at Jol's standing, and the club were caught red-handed negotiating with Juande Ramos behind his back. The much-liked Dutchman, whose successful signings included Gareth Bale and Dimitar Berbatov, was later shamefully sacked having been texted during the Getafe game by his nephew informing him of his fate.
He has since patched things up with Levy. The folly of the move was exposed when Ramos was axed a year later, with Tottenham bottom of the table.
Jol returned at Hamburg in 2008, where he finished fifth in the Bundesliga, before taking over a year later at Ajax, whom he led to the Dutch cup and second place in the Eredivisie, scoring 106 goals and conceding just 20. However that relationship soured when the Ajax legend Johan Cruyff was called in to overhaul the club and recommended recruiting more former players, leaving Jol's position untenable.
Jol is to bring with him as assistants his brother, Cock, and Martin Lindeman, while his former Tottenham sidekick Chris Hughton is being approached about a possible return. Jol is also believed to have drawn up a list of possible transfer targets, in the expectation that he might be offered the Fulham job.
He will have little time to get his feet under the table, with players due back for pre-season training on 23 June and facing a Europa League qualifier in less than four weeks' time. Jol will also have to make peace with Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora and Simon Davies, three players he sold in his time at Spurs.
Jol said yesterday: "I'm very happy to be back and especially at a club like Fulham. I could have gone to other countries but I was waiting for the opportunity to come back to England. I enjoy watching Fulham and I enjoy watching players like [Moussa] Dembele who I have known for a while.
"There are a few players here I still know from my time at Tottenham, like Simon Davies, Danny Murphy and Stephen Kelly – they are all very good professionals. Yesterday we had a good conversation about players and where we can try to strengthen and get one or two quality players."
Jol's managerial record
1996-1998 Won Dutch Cup, the club's first trophy in 30 years.
1998-2004 Saved them from relegation and won several coaching awards.
2004-07 Assistant to Jacques Santini but soon took over after poor start to the season. Led Spurs to two fifth-place finishes, the first in 2006 when lasagne-gate cost them a place in the Champions League. Harshly sacked in October 2007.
2008-09 Another fifth place, this time in the Bundesliga, and Uefa Cup semi-finalists.
2009-10 Pipped to the Eredivisie title by Steve McClaren's Twente but won Dutch Cup. Resigned in December 2010.