News broke yesterday that Rene Meulensteen has been replaced at Fulham as manager by Felix Magath, the German manager who won the league with Wolfsburg a few years ago.
“We had an extensive meeting on Monday afternoon as our meetings have been very good throughout,” Meulensteen told Sky Sports about his relationship with the chief exec. “Good open dialogue and good discussions as I explained why Fulham were in this position. But it wasn’t an easy starting point taking over from Martin Jol. We’ve had some really good performances but not results and it knocks confidence. We knew we had to put some new life into the team with some new players, more energy and quality, and we addressed that in the transfer window and got some new players in. But I’ve not been given enough time to finish the process. Everyone could see the difference in the performances against Manchester United and Liverpool – and what direction I was taking.”
Meulensteen hasn’t actually been sacked, contrary to early reports, with the club rating his ability as a coach but doubting his authority to hold a managerial position. Still, he will be leaving the club in the next few days when the terms of his departure have been finalised, with his position having been made untenable.
Since leaving United last summer, Meulensteen has had two posts as manager. The first was at Anzhi in Russia and lasted just 16 days. His stint at Fulham lasted 75 days. Both have mitigating circumstances and shouldn’t be used as a stick to beat him with, but it hasn’t been the greatest of starts.
Does his future lie in management though? In Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography he talked about the people he had worked with who he believed at the time clearly had a future in management. Steve McClaren was someone he singled out, as well as referring to Carlos Queiroz as “the closest you could be to being the Manchester United manager without actually holding the title”. There was no mention of Meulensteen though.
The Dutchman left the club on good terms after being offered a position at United by David Moyes. Meulensteen’s hands on approach to training suited Ferguson, who was happy to take a step back, whilst it clashes with Moyes’ training methods. Moyes likes to get his hands dirty and so there wouldn’t be room for Meulensteen to continue with the same responsibility that he enjoyed under Ferguson.
Meulensteen may feel like he hasn’t been given a fair crack of the whip where management is concerned, and may be keen to make it third time lucky with a different club. But there’s always the possibility that he might be starting to realise that management isn’t for him. Robin van Persie referred to Meulensteen as one of the best coaches in the world, and maybe that’s where he real strength lies and where he should remain.
Would there be a position for him at United still? A week ago there probably would have been, but not now.
Following United’s 2-2 draw with Fulham, Meulensteen was very smug in his post-match interview about how easy it had been to defend against United’s tactics. It was an unnecessary dig at Moyes. Meulensteen could have easily focussed on the strength of his own approach to the game without saying that our tactics were “straightforward” and “easy” to defend against. He then went as far as making suggestions on what United needed to do in future, saying: “You need a little bit of creativity and a bit of variety at times to open teams up. But it’s not for me to talk about Manchester United and what’s gone wrong.”
Maybe he is bitter about the fact he couldn’t continue on at the club, even if that was a decision of his own making. Maybe he does believe that Moyes isn’t a good enough manager and he is frustrated to see “his” players employed in such an unimaginative way. But these remarks have made any return to United impossible, as it would totally undermine Moyes.
I have great memories of Meulensteen at Old Trafford from the days when the Premier League trophy was lifted in front of the home fans. He would be going round the pitch with the players, geeing up the supporters and thoroughly enjoying himself. I think it was dreadful for the club that he left, given what a significant role he had played in our success over recent years, but it was something that couldn’t be avoided. I do wish Meulensteen the best of luck wherever he goes, even though a return to United is off, but I imagine he’ll think twice before giving a smug interview next time around.