Impact managers used to be home-grown veterans who knew the league – now the likes of Fulham turn to tough foreign taskmasters

Magath insisted no one had died in his boot camps, as if anything short was acceptable

When Felix Magath goes up against Pepe Mel this afternoon, it will not just be one of the spring’s first and fiercest relegation six-pointers, as West Bromwich Albion, out of the bottom three only on goal difference, entertain Fulham, still stuck to the bottom. It is also a test for a new concept in the game, a feature of recent years: the foreign manager as  firefighter.

Both Magath and Mel have been thrown in, with much of the season already gone, tasked with rescuing their teams and keeping them in the top flight. The presumption in English football has traditionally been that while foreign managers can build for the long term, for instant impact in hard times you need someone who knows the league, like Roy Hodgson at West Brom, Harry Redknapp or Mark Hughes at Queen’s Park Rangers, Martin O’Neill at Sunderland or Sam Allardyce at Blackburn Rovers.

But there is a new feeling now in the game that intimate knowledge of the league might not always be needed, that managers can produce the short-term upturn required without having worked in the Premier League before. It certainly takes hard work. A new approach to training tends to be the definitive characteristic of such a change. Even if there is not always enough time to teach the players a new way of playing, you may just be able to spark a reaction from them.

One of Magath’s first acts as Fulham head coach – even before he released Ray Wilkins and Alan Curbishley from their roles – was to cancel a scheduled day off last Sunday. “The most important thing for me is to get the players together and to work as fast as we can,” Magath said as he was unveiled at Craven Cottage on Thursday. “The players have to know me and they have to try to understand what I want. I have to understand the players and I have to think about what I can ask for.”

Time is the most important resource for new managers. The best recent example of a mid-season imported manager is Mauricio Pochettino, who controversially replaced Nigel Adkins last January, but guided Southampton to comfortable Premier League safety with wins over Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. This season Pochettino took Saints into the European positions, and they now look set for a top-half finish.

Southampton sacked Adkins after an admirable 2-2 draw at Chelsea, but part of the thinking behind the dismissal was that Saints had a nine-day break after their next game, free time in which Pochettino could work with the players. He took them to Barcelona for a warm-weather mini pre-season, working on the principles of fitness and pressing that won them the games that kept them up. The players still find his intense training very difficult, but it is working. Magath and Mel must hope that they have a similar impact.

Increasing the level of training is the most common way of kick-starting something. Magath insisted on Thursday that no one had died in any of his fierce physical boot camps, as if anything short of that was acceptable. When Roberto Mancini arrived at Manchester City, in December 2009, he instituted new double sessions, working the players far harder than Hughes had done. It did not go down particularly well with all the players.

Craig Bellamy described in his recent autobiography just how hard Mancini drove the players, even though Bellamy had other plans owing to a long-term knee injury. “He said I had to train every day. I told him I couldn’t because of my injury history. He said I had to do double sessions – morning and afternoon – and I told him I couldn’t.”

Mancini made some impact with City in his first season. They were sixth when he took over and finished fifth, but did win the FA Cup in 2011 and Premier League in 2012. With any mid-season addition, there are short-term and long-term targets and one does not always imply the other.

There are times when the short-term impact can backfire. Paolo Di Canio was not quite as new to English football as Magath, Mel or Pochettino, arriving from the lower leagues, and after having played very successfully in England for much of his career. But he tried to manage by radical culture change, and while Sunderland found the two wins they needed in April last year to keep them up, it was never going to last. Di Canio lost his job early this season.

Nevertheless Sunderland are better off for being in the Premier League than the Championship. The issue is how much short-termism is too much, and whether instant upswings can be made permanent. Juande Ramos arrived at Tottenham Hotspur in October 2007, taking over a team that had rather lost its way under Martin Jol, taking seven points from their first 11 games. He immediately found an environment he did not like.

“It was like a wedding buffet, cakes, pastries, sauces – and that was what they ate regularly,” Ramos remembered in a recent interview. “Honestly, there were players who were fat.” Ramos improved results, guiding them back up the table and winning the 2008 League Cup. But his changes soon became too restrictive and Ramos was replaced by Redknapp, a more conventional impact manager, the following year.

Rafael Benitez’s time in charge of Liverpool, starting in the summer of 2004, was a longer-term success, as he won an FA Cup and Champions League and built a team which finished second in the Premier League in 2008-09. But that needed a short-term cultural change too.

Benitez introduced more Mediterranean ingredients into the cooking at Melwood, removing the frozen food lunches and beans before kick-off. Benitez, in that field, followed Arsène Wenger at Arsenal, the paradigm example of cultural shift improving results, in the short and long term.

Language, though, is the last great hurdle, the problem that will always afflict foreign managers, even the very best. Benitez’s English was good when he arrived, as is Magath’s and Mel’s now, but even then it can be hard to convey messages perfectly. Early on in his reign, Benitez was taking a session in a heavy gale, which was disrupting Steven Gerrard’s crosses to Peter Crouch.

“Stevie,” Benitez said, “be careful with the wine.” Some players laughed but few understood. Benitez soon realised that he meant wind.

Sport
Brazilian fans watch the match for third place between Brazil and Netherlands
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: Dutch pile on the misery in third place playoff
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
Arts and Entertainment
books The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Original Netflix series such as Orange Is The New Black are to benefit from a 'substantial' increase in investment
TVHoax announcement had caused outrage
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
News
One Direction star Harry Styles who says he has no plans to follow his pal Cara Delevingne down the catwalk.
musicManagement confirms rumours singer is going it alone are false
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?