Fulham 'panic' a far cry from heroics under Hodgson

The England boss brought stability and a Europa League final appearance to the south west London outfit but a series of changes have sent the club into a tailspin
By Jamie Dunn

Rene Meulensteen was under no illusion as to why Fulham owner Shahid Khan and chief executive Alistair Mackintosh ended his tenure at the club after just 75 days in charge and appointed experienced manager Felix Magath in his stead.

"They have hit the panic button on emotion and fear - but hey ho, that's football," Meulensteen told BBC Radio Five Live.

"I knew the owners were freaking out a little bit that there was the possibility of the club going down.

"The way forward that we have discussed with the club was about longevity and in this case it is clearly an act of fear."

Panic. Fear. Freaking out. All words you might associate with Fulham’s difficult season off the back of a series of changes at various levels of the club, but a far cry from Roy Hodgson’s time at Craven Cottage, which ended less than four years ago.

It may not have always been exhilarating to watch, but Hodgson was perfect for Fulham.

Under Hodgson, Fulham slowly became a pillar of stability, borne out of an overhaul of personnel and training sessions with extensive focus on team shape.

The club miraculously and narrowly avoided relegation in 2008 with four wins from their last five games. A graphic shown on Match of the Day towards the end of that season asked which other club, aside from Derby and Fulham, would be relegated. That's how far gone they appeared to be, but Hodgson oversaw a late charge to 17th place, edging Reading with a marginally superior goal difference.

The following season – the club’s eighth consecutive campaign in the Premier League – Fulham finished seventh, losing just five home games and conceding a mere 34 goals.

A shot at the Europa League followed. Hodgson guided his side from a third round qualifying tie with FK Vetra in Lithuania past clubs of the calibre of Roma, Basel, Shakhtar Donetsk, Juventus, Wolfsburg and Hamburg en route to a final clash with Atletico Madrid, who boasted Diego Forlan and Sergio Aguero and edged Fulham in extra-time.

Such success was bound to attract suitors and Liverpool eventually came calling for Hodgson in a move which proved to be ill-suited for both club and coach, who is now charged with delivering success to the England national team following a spell at West Brom.

But while Hodgson recovered from a poor spell at Anfield to provide stability at the Hawthorns, and to a lesser extent with England, Fulham have suffered an ongoing identity crisis since his departure.

Mark Hughes promised much, signing Mousa Dembele and seeing the club to an eighth-place finish, but his tenure ended surprisingly and prematurely when he walked out of Craven Cottage halfway through a two-year contract, citing a lack of ambition.

Former Tottenham boss Martin Jol returned to the Premier League to replace Hughes in 2011 and oversaw a ninth-place finish.

Jol touted a brand of attacking football, but results began to suffer as Hodgson’s ageing squad continued to be phased out. Gone were the likes of Danny Murphy, who left the club for nothing at the end of the 2011-12 season, and Bobby Zamora, who had a very public falling out with the Dutchman.

Despite the transfer deadline day signing of Dimitar Berbatov, Fulham slipped to a 12th-place finish in 2012-13, but things were looking up in July when Khan, the owner of NFL franchise Jacksonville Jaguars, bought the club from Mohamed Al-Fayed and hoped to take it to “the next level".

The gradual slump on the pitch had begun to gather pace at the start of the 2013-14 season. With Jol’s Fulham struggling, Meulensteen – a former Manchester United coach under Sir Alex Ferguson – was drafted in to assist his compatriot before promptly replacing him just three weeks later.

The questionable appointments continued as Ray Wilkins was brought in as Meulensteen’s assistant, while former West Ham and Charlton boss Alan Curbishley took up a position as technical director on Christman Eve.

Meulensteen was confident he would have turned things around for Fulham, by now languishing at the bottom of the Premier League table.

But, in truth, performances had shown little sign of improvement. Fulham were abysmal in the FA Cup against Sheffield United and were beaten in extra-time by the League One side. A well-executed game plan earned them a point away to a Manchester United side lacking confidence, while losing to Liverpool at home despite having scored twice appears to have proved the final straw for Khan and Mackintosh.

Now, Magath is left with 12 games to save Fulham, who are four points from safety. Avoiding the drop in such circumstances would even trump Hodgson’s achievements.