No Premier League season is complete without a few sackings, and Sunderland getting rid of Paulo Di Canio whilst suitably dramatic, was a little predictable. The next to go is Martin Jol. Fulham haven’t been doing at all good enough this term, despite a squad that although not brilliant, should have been competent enough to avoid relegation. His successor is former Manchester United coach René Meulensteen, appointed in the wake of 3-0 defeat that leaves Fulham wallowing in the relegation zone.
Fulham have been woeful this season; not enough goals going forward, and none of their usual resilience at the back. It is an unusual situation. In previous seasons, Fulham have been very solid, Hengeland and Aaron Hughes have until this term been the most underrated central defence partnership in the league, and Stekelenburg and Amorebieta appeared to be good additions. 24 goals conceded in just 13 games tells a different story. The picture is no better up front either, with less than a goal a game scored. Bryan Ruiz was one of Fulham’s standout players last time out, but has been an ineffective passenger this season. He joins the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Adel Taraabt in what is a growing group of Fulham players full of talent, but chronically underperforming, a fact pointed out by captain Scott Parker after Saturday defeat at Upton Park: “The manager takes all the flak but the players need to take massive responsibility…Are we willing to stand up and be counted when things get tough?” Parker believes that they can, that a turnaround is on its way, but thus far, the answer is no, Fulham’s players have not stood up and been counted.
Jol has probably been a little unfortunate. The Dutchman inherited a good squad, and bought wisely, investing in talented, proven, experienced players. However, it has not clicked, and just as Jol cannot take all the blame for Fulham’s slump in the last year, neither can the players. Fulham have traditionally overachieved for years now, and the decline under Jol has been dramatic. Jol was always going to be on thin ice this year, since the new owner Shahid Khan took over the club in the summer. New owners are always going to want their own man in charge, and it can be difficult for the inherited manager to prove that he is the right man for the job. Khan’s new man is René Meulensteen, a risk given his relative lack of experience in the hot seat.
Hailed as an excellent coach by all involved at Manchester United, and apparently key in the signing of Robin van Persie, Meulensteen was always going to make the step up at some point. After joining Hiddink as Assisant Manager at Anzhi Makhachkala, he filled the former Chelsea boss’ boots just two games into the current 2013/14 Russian season. His tenure lasted just 16 days. Meulensteen was quite unfortunate in Russia, and became a victim of billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov’s decision to cut costs and make more of a return to Anzhi’s roots in Dagestan. A key part of Kerimov’s vision was former Soviet Union head coach Gadzhi Gadzhiyev. Meulensteen became collateral damage. His lack of experience isn’t his fault, but it could count against Meulensteen in his efforts to save Fulham from relegation this term, how successful he can be at this level, only time will tell.