Martin Jol took charge of Ajax for a friendly match against the amateur side Rijnsburgse Boys last night, but Fulham were still confident that it would be his last game as manager of the four-time European champions.
After a remarkable day of negotiation and counter-claim between the two clubs, Jol's future was still in doubt, although it remains likely he will take up the job on offer at Craven Cottage.
Ajax had initially refused to discuss compensation for Jol with Fulham's chief executive, Alistair Mackintosh, who had flown out to Amsterdam to hammer out the final details of the deal. However, sources at the west London club last night said the Dutch club had changed their stance and talks had finally begun that could see Jol cleared to leave. Fulham, who were runners-up in the Europa League last season, were adamant they would not be held hostage over the level of compensation due.
After last night's game, which Ajax won 7-0, Jol said he would be holding further talks with the board of the Amsterdam club this morning. Jol, 54, said: "We will talk again in the morning about the future of Ajax. We need to strengthen the squad, everyone knows this, but there's no money. We have lost some good players and no one is coming in. I fear for the future of Ajax in this position.
"Ajax know about the offer from Fulham. In the past I have had other offers that no one knows about. Now in England it is public, but that's not my fault."
Jol's motives in holding these talks with Ajax remain unclear. It is possible he is genuine in his claim that he will remain at the club should he receive guarantees that players sold will be adequately replaced. But cynics in the Netherlands believe he is going through the motions, attempting to curry favour with the Amsterdam public so that it is the Ajax board which is blamed for a lack of ambition when he finally announces he will be moving to Fulham.
Either way, it leaves Mackintosh in the embarrassing situation of being made to wait. He arrived in the Netherlands believing he would be able to negotiate the terms of Jol's release from his contract with Ajax. Instead he was greeted with reports that Jol was about to perform a last-minute U-turn, having changed his mind about a return to the Premier League. Jol was quoted in the Amsterdam-based newspaper De Telegraaf yesterday morning as having said: "Fulham were interested but in principle I will stay at Ajax." Mackintosh however stuck to his guns, believing what Jol had told him, that he wishes to leave.
Amid the conflicting spin, the simple fact remained last night that Jol was still the manager of Ajax, despite the best efforts of Fulham to entice him to London. At the start of the week it had looked like the deal had been done. Jol had been offered a basic salary of £1.7m a year, plus extensive and lucrative bonuses, by chairman Mohamed al-Fayed and had agreed in principle to move.
The only real obstacle appeared to be the level of compensation due to Ajax, which according to a release clause in Jol's contract is around £1.2m. However, Ajax have since tried their utmost to convince Jol to stay, with promises to make funds available for transfers, although many Dutch observers doubt there is the money to do it. Jol, 54, has been unhappy that some of his better players such as Gregory van der Wiel were being sold to pay off the club's debts.
Jol entered a meeting on Monday with a list of demands, trying to use Fulham's interest as a bargaining chip in negotiations to strengthen his hand at Ajax. The Dutch club briefed journalists afterwards that the manager would be staying put as a compromise had been reached and money would be released for new players. Last night that seemed more an expression of hope than expectation.
Fulham have been pursing Jol for some time, and approached the former Tottenham Hotspur manager more than a week ago about the possibility of replacing Roy Hodgson, who moved to Liverpool on 1 July.
Fayed was closely involved in the negotiations with Jol, who has been promised £20m to spend in the transfer window. Fulham are currently on a pre-season tour of Sweden, under caretaker manager Ray Lewington. They play Halmstad in a friendly tomorrow.