LONDON: For Felix Magath, in his public debut as first-team manager of London strugglers Fulham against West Bromwich on Saturday, it all starts with mathematics.
Fulham are bottom of the Premier League, four points from safety and 17th-place West Brom, with 12 matches remaining. Cardiff, immediately above them, can win at home to Hull but Sunderland, 18th, should lose away to Arsenal.
Significantly, a sign of Magath’s tactical priority, Fulham have conceded 58 goals which is 17 more than the next worse defence which is Mark Hughes’s Stoke (41).
Magath, Fulham’s third manager this season after Martin Jol and Rene Meulensteen, has already toughened up Fulham’s training programme following his appointment last weekend.
As Tottenham loanee Lewis Holtby said: “At the weekend, I was in Denmark visiting my girlfriend’s family. I had booked a flight for Sunday afternoon but since the first training session under Felix Magath was scheduled on such short notice for Sunday morning, I had to return a day early.”
Holtby, while at Schalke, was twice sent out on loan by Magath but has said he has no problem with the appointment though it was “a big surprise.”
Initial confusion over the fate of the previous managerial team has been resolved. Fulham have formally dismissed Meulensteen and aides Ray Wilkins and Alan Curbishley as well as coaches Mick Priest and Jonathan Hill. Tomas Oral has come in as first-team coach with Werner Leuthard the new conditioning coach.
Scepticism over Magath’s appointment among fans is not related to his two-year absence from management but from his lack of knowledge of both the English game and the peculiar qualities needed to lead a fight against relegation.
For example, promoted Crystal Palace appeared to be heading straight back down after a poor start to the season under Ian Holloway. Palace moved quickly to replace him with Tony Pulis who had made Stoke notoriously hard to beat. They have since moved up to 15th, two points above the relegation zone.
Magath, therefore, not only must revolutionise his team’s defensive set-up but convince fans that he is the right man for the job. He could hardly have hoped for a better opportunity than a home game against West Brom who have not won any of their last seven games and have won only one of 13 away games.
** Michael Laudrup has complained that he was sacked as manager of Swansea “only by email” after a disagreement with chairman Huw Jenkings over changes to his backroom team.