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Sunday, 01 November 2020

Relegation fears cause Fulham to press panic button

AFP, Saturday 15 Feb 2014
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Views: 394

As Steven Gerrard leapt into the air in celebration of his late winner for Liverpool at Craven Cottage on Wednesday, Fulham owner Shahid Khan could feel the relegation trapdoor opening beneath his feet.

Fulham's 18th defeat in 26 games this season had left the west London club rooted to the bottom of the Premier League, with just 12 matches remaining to preserve their place in the lucrative English top-flight.

Faced with the prospect of losing out on the millions on offer to the 20 clubs who compete in the world's richest league each year, Pakistan-born tycoon Khan decided drastic action was needed after that loss to Liverpool.

Just 48 hours later, the club's recently-appointed manager Rene Meulensteen was ruthlessly sacked, with former Bayern Munich boss Felix Magath immediately hired as his replacement.

Meulensteen had only been in charge for 75 days following his promotion from assistant to fellow-Dutchman Martin Jol, who was axed in December.

"Given our form, we can no longer merely hope that our fortunes will finally turn. And with 12 matches remaining and at least four points separating us from safety, we certainly can no longer post empty results. Action was required," Khan said.

The difference in playing Premier League football or plunging into the second tier is estimated at around £120 million and Khan is desperate to hold on to that fiscal prize.

United States-based Khan has already seen his purchase of NFL franchise the Jacksonville Jaguars produce disappointing results as the team has lost 26 of their 32 matches since he bought them in 2012.

At least the NFL's structure means Jacksonville will continue to play among the sport's elite.

For struggling Fulham, however, the nightmare scenario of relegation into the financial wasteland of the Championship has become increasingly realistic as they fell four points adrift of safety.

Even so, dismissing former Manchester United assistant Meulensteen in such brutal fashion will inevitably draw widespread criticism.

- Descent into farce -

Fulham had actually been playing reasonably well in their last two matches, earning a draw at champions Manchester United and twice leading against Liverpool before slipping to the 3-2 defeat that cost Meulensteen his job.

That makes the timing of the sacking especially bizarre as Khan had allowed Meulensteen to sign players during the transfer window and then gave him next to little chance to work with new arrivals like Konstantinos Mitroglou and Lewis Holtby.

It was the latest chaotic development at a club rapidly descending into farce.

Fulham can count celebrated comedian Tommy Trinder among their former chairmen, but Khan's brief reign is in danger of leaving the west London outfit as the punchline to countless jokes at their expense.

Trinder, chairman between 1959 and 1976, was famous for his catchphrase "you lucky people".

Fulham fans may beg to differ about their current owner's time in charge.

Meulensteen, who was sacked after just 16 days by Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala earlier this season, is convinced he has paid the price for a knee-jerk reaction motivated by Khan's fear of missing out on the Premier League's cash.

"I knew the owners were freaking out and panicking about the fact that Fulham could get relegated, but they've had that sort of attitude already 10 games back," he said.

"They've hit the panic button on emotions of fear."

Magath, whose first game in charge will be a crucial trip to fellow-strugglers West Bromwich Albion on February 22, arrives with impressive pedigree, having won the German league title three times, twice with Bayern and once with Wolfsburg.

But the 60-year-old might want to think about renting his new home in London rather than making an outright purchase because the odds must be against Fulham's latest manager seeing out the duration of his 18-month contract.

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