Quick learner Coleman keen to repay Fulham's faith

Click to follow
The Independent Football

So much for the big return of the managerial old guard. Following 18 months of high-profile appointments such as Terry Venables, Howard Wilkinson and Graham Taylor, the emphasis has now switched back to youth. Or in Fulham's case, cradle snatching.

The 32-year-old Chris Coleman, who was confirmed as Jean Tigana's full-time replacement on Thursday, is not only the youngest-ever Premiership manager, he is also the one with the least experience. Before his stint as caretaker for the last five games of the season, the former Welsh international had only coached Fulham's Under-10s. Forget the proposed redevelopment of Craven Cottage or the £43m spent on building the team, this is the chairman's biggest gamble of his tenure.

"I know Chris does not necessarily have the managerial experience," Mohamed Al Fayed said, "but what he lacks in experience he more than makes up for in his commitment and passion for the game and this club." It was not so long ago that the Southampton and then Bradford chairmen were saying exactly the same thing as they appointed Stuart Gray and Chris Hutchings. Both young coaches were internal appointments, who knew the workings of the club and players. Both were gone by the autumn and, while Southampton managed to survive, Bradford were relegated nine months later.

"I can understand why this will have raised some people's eyebrows," Coleman says, "but look at David Moyes [who replaced Walter Smith at Everton 15 months ago]. Some said that was a risky decision, but he has done a tremendous job." No one can argue with Moyes's achievements last season, but he had enjoyed a successful period at Preston beforehand. Moyes had no Premiership experience, but he understood the rigours of running a club full-time. The same can be said for most of the League's other young successes, such as Southampton's Gordon Strachan or Birmingham's Steve Bruce.

Coleman accepts he has his work cut out, but believes that he can make the transition from player to manager. "No one is under any illusions," he says, "but if I didn't think I could do the job I wouldn't be here now. I know I can no longer be one of the lads, I know I will have to make some difficult decisions, but I'm not worried about that. Even at the end of last season, I had to make some tough calls, but the players all accepted that."

Coleman is a likeable man, who deserves some luck. Just over two years ago, he almost lost a foot in a horrific car crash in Surrey. The accident kept him out of the game for over a year and, though he did force his way back into the Fulham reserves and even made a brief final appearance for Wales at the Millennium Stadium in May 2002, he never fully recovered. Since hanging up his boots, he has been taking his coaching badges with Uefa, the latest of which were handed to him early last week. Coleman's surprise appointment has been greeted positively by all the senior players as well as his predecessor, who recommended him for the post when he left the club last month. He will be assisted by Steve Kean, the Scot who has overseen the development of Sean Davis, Steve Finnan and Elvis Hammond at the club's academy.

Coleman's elevation is further proof that young British managers are back in fashion. A week before his unveiling, Peter Reid got the nod at Leeds United, and now Aston Villa are expected to follow suit in the next few weeks. Barely a day goes by without Reading's Alan Pardew, Leicester's Mickey Adams, or George Burley being linked with a vacant post. Premiership chairmen have looked at the success of Moyes, Strachan and Alan Curbishley, and decided that they want a similar return.

Fayed insists that Coleman was not chosen because he is a "cheaper option", but in these troubled financial times there can be little doubt that enthusiastic motivators are getting the nod ahead of experienced tacticians. "But that's OK, too," Coleman says. "Who is to say if we brought an experienced guy in he would have lasted a long time? By choosing me ahead of Klaus Toppmöller [once of Bayer Leverkusen], Louis van Gaal [once of Ajax and Barcelona] and Burley [once of Ipswich], Fulham have showed a lot of faith. I am determined to repay that faith with results on the pitch."

Coleman's tune has certainly changed dramatically since his first post-match press conference four weeks ago. That day, following Fulham's vital 2-1 win over Newcastle United, the Welshman said that he had "absolutely no wish" to take the post on a permanent basis. "What can I say?" he smiles, two wins, one defeat and a draw later, "I just got the bug as the weeks went on. The longer I did the job, the more I enjoyed it."

One hopes he will be holding the same positive discourse in 12 months.