In the end, Martin Jol’s sacking came as no surprise to himself or to the rest of the footballing world. His dismissal as Fulham manager after two years in charge was far from the most shocking managerial departure English football has seen this season. The writing had already been on the wall for some time for the Dutchman. Although it was purely the club’s run of just three wins from their opening 13 league matches (including a crushing 3-0 defeat at fellow strugglers West Ham in his final game) that cost Jol his job, results were not the only thing that looked to be counting against him.
Jol’s successor, Rene Meulensteen, was added to his coaching staff as head coach just weeks before the former Tottenham boss’ sacking in a move that suggested the Fulham board’s confidence in Jol was diminishing with every passing week. Meulensteen could prove to be a shrewd appointment for Fulham, as he brings with him a wide range of coaching experience from across Europe, including a five year stint as Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team coach at Manchester United from 2008-2013, a period which saw the Reds lift the Premier League trophy on three occasions.
Although a majority of his experience so far has been as an assistant or youth coach, Meulensteen will be hoping to emulate the likes of Steve Clarke at West Brom in the Premiership, who has made the successful transition into a managerial role in recent years.
However, despite the optimism surrounding Meulensteen’s appointment, it was hard not to feel sorry for the outgoing Jol. In his two full seasons in charge in West London, he did all that was asked of him by preserving Fulham’s top flight status, even maintaining their top flight finish in his first season at the helm. There was also cause for much optimism this campaign following a busy summer transfer market thatsaw Jol secure the services of Scott Parker, Dutch international goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, and Darren Bent, who had been frozen out of the first team at Aston Villa.
They also retained the services of Dimitar Berbatov after a successful debut season for the club after Jol signed him from Manchester United in the summer of 2012. However, all has not gone to plan for Fulham in an increasingly competitive Premier League. The development of signings such as Stekelenburg has been hampered by injury, while the form of key figures such as Berbatov that was vital to Fulham’s stability last season has deserted them.
Questions have also been raised about the attitude and commitment of certain players, such as Berbatov – not the first time the Bulgarian’s casual approach to the game has been under scrutiny. However, the likeable character Jol comes across as and respectable as his managerial record his, it was becoming increasingly unlikely that he would be able to salvage his job at Craven Cottage.
Although Fulham’s solid showing in the previous two seasons under Jol may have entitled him to more time to turn around the team’s fortunes, the club can afford to take no chances in their fight against relegation from the top flight, where they have been for twelve years. The Premier League is becoming more competitive with every passing season, particularly towards the bottom of the table. This means there is less room for error for the league’s strugglers, especially as this campaign’s relegation battle looks set to be considerably closer that last season’s, when Reading and primarily QPR were acknowledged clear favorites for relegation as the season progressed.
Although Sunderland have been rock bottom of the table for a majority of the season, they are still just four points behind Fulham and have been showing signs of improvement under Gus Poyet. Perhaps, sadly, it was Jol’s likable personality that meant he was not the best man to lead Fulham’s quest for survival. The competitiveness season that Fulham face will require some ruthless decisions and a rigid approach, something Jol may not feel overly comfortable with.
Jol’s lack of experience of managing struggling teams in a relegation battle may also have counted against him. Although only time will tell whether Meulensteen’s appointment will pay off at Fulham, Jol’s departure is a great loss as his honest and approachable attitude was a welcome addition to English football. It also symbolizes the ongoing difficulties and pressures that modern day coaches face in establishing themselves in top flight football.