Fulham farce as Rene Meulensteen is cast aside for ‘saviour’ Felix Magath
Bottom club appoint ‘The Fireman’ in effort to avoid drop after Dutch coach lasts just 13 games
The situation at Fulham descended into farce tonight when head coach Rene Meulensteen claimed he had been sacked - despite the fact he remains contracted to the club - after Felix Magath was brought in as 'first team manager' above him.
The Premier League's bottom-placed club made the decision to bring in Magath after Meulensteen earned just 10 points from 13 games having taken over as the head coach job following Martin Jol's sacking. However, as of tonight, there had been no agreement to terminate Meulensteen's contract.
The Dutch coach gave an interview to BBC Five Live in which he said he was 'very, very surprised and disappointed' with the decision. When asked why he was not mentioned in the Fulham statement announcing the arrival of Magath at the club, Meulensteen appeared confused as to what presenter Dan Walker was referring to.
In response to being told about the statement, Meulensteen said: 'It is what it is. You have been told they are bringing a new guy in and you are being released. What they put in the statement, I can't really care less.'
Felix Magath has replaced Rene Meulensteen as Fulham manager In the long term, Fulham expect that they will come to an agreement with Meulensteen over a severance package, unless he expresses a desire to stay at the club - which is considered unlikely.
Asked how he learned that Magath was to be joining the club, Meulensteen again gave the impression he had been sacked. He said: 'I was told by [chief executive] Alistair Mackintosh. He was clear on the way forward and open. That's what happens in football - that's the problem with owners who don't really understand the Premier League.
'I have always felt I had all the support from [owner] Mr [Shad] Khan and a good and open dialogue and discussion with him. It was always a healthy one. In that respect the decision comes as a bit of a surprise.'
There have been no final decisions made on the futures of the recently appointed technical director Alan Curbishley or coach Ray Wilkins. They will be taken in collaboration with Magath. It has always been Meulensteen and Fulham's position that both Englishmen were brought in with the head coach's agreement.
The Independent understands that having originally backed Meulensteen in the transfer window, the club felt that a record of one Premier League win since the turn of the year was simply not good enough. They believed his record was no better than that of Martin Jol, who he replaced on 4 December. An American contingent visited this week and the decision has been taken over the last two days.
In appointing Magath, Fulham had to see off competition from Hamburg, who also wanted to appoint him. Fulham see it as a coup that they beat Hamburg for Magath's signature, given his strong ties at the club he spent the majority of his playing career and won a European Cup. He is the Premier League's first German manager.
It is understood that Khan and Mackintosh felt that Magath was the right man to get an immediate response from the Fulham players. The 60-year-old, who has won three Bundesliga titles as a coach at Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg, is known in his native country as 'the fireman' for his ability to react in difficult situations and turn clubs around.
In the Five Live interview, Meulensteen said: 'I know the owners were freaking out and panicking that Fulham could get relegated. They had that sort of attitude already, ten games back. Everyone who has been in the Premier League understand that this [relegation battle] will go right to the wire.
'Yes, Fulham are bottom of the league but even if you are in tenth at the moment if you lose two games you are right back in it.'
Meulensteen lamented the fact that, like short-lived spells as manager of Brondby and then, more recently Anzhi Makhachkala, he had been he had been faced with a challenge in which he had to 'clear up the mess myself before I could start building my own team'.
He said: 'They have hit the panic button of emotion and fear. But hey-ho that's what happens in football. It's not always fair.'
In a statement Khan praised a 'wonderful job' by Mackintosh in the transfer window, in which Fulham signed seven new players on permanent and loan deals, and said that 'action was required' to save the club. There was no mention of Meulensteen. in statements from Mackintosh or Khan.
Khan said that Magath, who has signed an 18-month contract, has 'a reputation ... for coming into clubs at difficult times, often late in the season, and lifting them to their potential and beyond.' He added: 'Felix knows that is precisely the task awaiting him at Fulham, and he made it abundantly clear that he wants and is ready for the opportunity.
'Our club has shown promise in recent matches, but the fact is we have not won a league match since 1 January. Given our form, we can no longer merely hope that our fortunes will finally turn. And with 12 matches remaining and at least four points separating us from safety, we certainly can no longer post empty results. Action was required.'
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