The Ericle has been distracted a ‘little’, (I’m sure that Mrs. Ericle would say a ‘lot’), by Fulham matters of late (Mrs. Ericle: ‘always has been’). For those who have not been paying as much attention, Fulham’s journey from Europa League Final to rock bottom of the 2nd tier of English football has not been without its share of farce. Printed below is an article from today’s Observer that chronicles the madness of our recently departed manager. (For further amusement look at this hysterical spoof video here.)

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Much of Fulham’s most recent decline can be tracked back to the purchase of the club in the summer of 2013 by Shahid Khan. Kahn, at best a foolish overseas absentee owner, clearly has not been paying enough attention to the goings-on at his vanity purchase. Unkind types, with long memories, may feel that ‘what goes round comes round’ and Fulham have a history of ‘joke’ chairmen going back to Tommy Trinder in the 60s. But perhaps there is something even more sinister afoot at Fulham. Roll back to  10th April 1999, the visit of not only Wigan to Craven Cottage but also of Michael Jackson. (A video of the occasion can be found here.)

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Fulham won that game 2-0 and went on to gain promotion to the Premier League, as runaway leaders of  The Championship with a record 101 points. The confluence of the visit of Michael Jackson with subsequent good happenings was clearly not lost on Chairman Mohammed and after the sale of Harrods, in May 2010, he moved his commissioned statue of the World’s Greatest Moonwalker from there to beside The Riverside Stand at Craven Cottage. (He had originally planned to locate it in Harrods, but its completion was preceded by the sale.) Al Fayed proudly unveiled the statue to an unsuspecting world on April 3rd of the following year.  The statue – which is 7.5 feet high is made of plaster & resin and stood 13.5 feet high inclusive of a plinth – portrays Jackson wearing a silver jacket, black trousers, white socks and a single glove. To say that this act met with derision by most Fulham fans (and replica statue) critics would be an understatement. According to Wikipedia the statue was variously described as ‘kitsch’ and received comments from some fans of Fulham F.C such as “We’re a laughing stock. It has nothing to do with football” and “It makes the club look silly. I thought it was an April Fools joke”. Al-Fayed rejected such comments saying, “‘Football fans love it. If some stupid fans don’t understand and appreciate such a gift they can go to hell.'”

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In July 2013, Al Fayed sold Fulham Football Club – who had just finished 12th in the Premier League – to Shahid Khan for a fee of between £150m and £2oom. One of Khan’s first acts was to have the unpopular statue of Michael Jackson removed to the almost unanimous approval of Fulham fans. (It now stands in the National Football Museum in Manchester). Mohammed Al Fayed on hearing of the statue’s removal made the following comment to the BBC: “Fine, it is a lucky thing, you will regret it later.” Just 11 months later, in May 2014, Fulham were relegated to the Championship – where they are now in last place. Any advice on curse-removals should be addressed to Mr Shahid Khan, Fulham Football Club, Craven Cottage, Stevenage Road, London SW6 6HH

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Fulham say farewell to Magath and the crazy world of Felix the madcap

For Fulham’s players it was a bewildering world during the German’s reign but perhaps he would have survived if he had proved himself a brilliant tactician or motivator.  Article by Daniel Taylor.
Felix Magath, former Fulham manager

You might be aware of that scene from I’m Alan Partridge and the little piece of comedy gold when he is informed he isn’t getting another series of his chat show and, one by one, all the ideas he pitches as alternatives – potential classics such as “Monkey Tennis” or “Arm Wrestling with Chas and Dave” – are rejected until he finally snaps, jabs a fork into a block of Stilton and thrusts it into the face of Tony Hayers, the BBC’s head of commissioning.

That little sketch –  “D’ya want some cheese” “ – comes to mind now Felix Magath has left Fulham and one of the stories that suggests he, too, had some strange ideas of his own before everything unravelled. Again, it involves a large mound of cheese and, much like Alan, it is difficult to know where it leaves him professionally.

It goes back to last season when Brede Hangeland, then the Fulham captain, was diagnosed with a slight thigh injury and the club’s doctor, Stephen Lewis, with more than a decade of working in elite sport, put together a recovery programme to try to get him fit for the weekend. Except Magath thought he knew better. There was another way to treat the problem, he said. So he sent the kit-man to the Tesco in New Malden, a short drive along the A3 from Fulham’s training ground, to buy a large block of cheese.

Hangeland was then told to perch on the end of a massage table and spend the afternoon in that position with a slab of cheese carefully positioned on the sore spot. The cheese, according to Magath, would have soothing effects. Hangeland was a sceptical patient and, funnily enough, Lewis decided a few months later he would rather stick to more orthodox practices and left to join Brighton and Hove Albion. Hangeland could not wait to get away either and has been a frequent critic of Magath ever since. Others, I suspect, will start to be more forthcoming now he is gone because it is clear, speaking to some of the people who have now left Fulham, that his regime was even more bewildering and unpleasant than previously thought.

It is certainly difficult sometimes to remember that the man Fulham sacked on Thursday, bottom of the Championship and dropping like a stone in a well, had won two Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich and another with Wolfsburg in the previous decade.

The Strange Case of the (Craven) Cottage Cheese is one thing but the stories about Magath are multiple and it would not be any surprise here if Fulham, despite losing their first game with Kit Symons as caretaker manager, begin climbing the league once a bit of common sense returns to the club and now they have started to bring back some of the ostracised players.

The list of outcasts featured Bryan Ruiz, who you may recall featured in many people’s World Cup XIs because of his performances for Costa Rica, and previously included the club’s £11m record signing, Kostas Mitroglou, now on loan at Olympiakos, and Fernando Amorebieta, formerly of Athletic Bilbao. Every day they would be left to mundane exercises on the next pitch to where the first-team squad were going through their sprints. Maarten Stekelenburg used to be with them, too, until he moved to Monaco on loan, and the Magath way was very much to close them off as if they did not exist. Another player was seen talking to Stekelenburg and one of Magath’s coaches ran over to tell him it was not permitted.

Perhaps none of this would have mattered too much had Magath shown he was a brilliant tactician or motivator. Yet this was the man who played Dan Burn, a 6ft 6in centre-half, at right-back in the 4-1 defeat against Stoke City last season that tagged their toes for the relegation morgue. Burn found out on the day of the match and the poor bloke put in a performance that can be accurately measured by the Stoke Sentinel’s post-match interview with Oussama Assaidi. “I felt very sorry for their defender,” the winger said. “He was a nice guy. He asked me to change sides, he didn’t want to play against me any more.” After that game, Magath turned on Burn in the dressing room. When Burn pointed out he had never played that position in his life he, too, was sent into a form of isolation (though, unlike others, he was eventually brought back).

As for Magath’s training methods, the stories are alarming. After one defeat, the German cancelled a day off and brought in everyone to play a full 90-minute match. At other times there have reputedly been three sessions in one day, some purely devoted to running the players until they were close to dropping. It was punishing and primitive and, slowly but surely, the Fulham players came to realise why Magath was known behind his back as “Saddam” at one of his former clubs.

Fulham can hardly say they were unaware of what he was like when his other nickname from Germany was Quälix, a mix of Felix and the verbquälen (to torture). Magath does have a record of achievement behind him but it is an outmoded style and now Fulham probably have a better idea now why Lewis Holtby, on loan from Tottenham, immediately asked to return to White Hart Lane when he found out that Magath, formerly his coach at Schalke, was taking over. In Germany, the joke is that Magath stopped winning matches because the opposition always included some of his former players – who disliked him so much they would give everything to beat him.

Magath had not been in work for 18 months when Fulham’s owner, Shahid Khan, offered him a way back in February and the only conclusion to draw is that his old-school style of boot camp management just does not work in modern-day football. Players don’t want to run until they fall or operate in an environment where they hardly dare utter a word. When they have been made to run through woods for 45 minutes, they don’t want to find the manager has emptied their water bottles for reasons only he knows.

One story has emerged of Magath calling players into his office and then just staring at them for two or three minutes without saying a word. Another comes from this season when two of Fulham’s first-year pros turned up late for training and Magath fined them so heavily it led to a meeting of the club’s senior players to decide how to take him on.

Eventually, the captain, Scott Parker, went to see him and tried to argue that the amount of money involved was not really fair for two teenagers on relatively low salaries. Parker explained there was a legitimate reason why they had been late and did his polite best to make it clear the punishment was disproportionate to the crime. Magath refused to budge. “They need to be taught a lesson,” he said. Parker – a class act – ended up paying the fines.

The theory here is that Magath brought through so many of Fulham’s academy-produced players because it better suited his control-freakishness, on the basis they were less likely to argue and more likely to fall in line, like Daleks. There is a difference, though, between being a manager who wants power and rule and one who is unreasonable and dictatorial to the point that it alienates everyone. Magath, to put it bluntly, was an unpleasant man and the trail of ill feeling he has left behind him brings to mind what Jefferson Farfán of Schalke once said about his former manager. “All the managers at Schalke in the last few years gave something to the club,” Farfán said. “The only coach who didn’t leave anything positive behind was Magath. All he left behind were fines.”

For Fulham, it could take some while to repair the damage. Yet Symons, I’m reliably informed, is one of football’s good guys and already working to make Craven Cottage a happy place again behind the scenes. The chalk to Magath’s cheese.

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4 Responses to The Curse of the Michael Jackson statue

  1. Felix sounds well adjusted and fair.

  2. Ericle says:

    A 2012 Guardian report, which makes one wonder what research the Fulham management undertook before appointing Magath:

    BUNDESLIGA UNITES IN ITS DISTASTE FOR FELIX MAGATH’S ACTS OF UNKINDNESS

    The under-fire Wolfsburg manager has managed seven German clubs and left behind him a trail of ill-feeling. “Felix Magath out!” and “never again, Felix Magath, never again,” the Schalke 04 supporters were chanting at the Wolfsburg manager at the Veltins Arena on Saturday. Quite a few Royal Blues players on the pitch seemed tempted to join in as well. Jefferson Farfán, for example, made a point of running over to the Wolfsburg bench after scoring the opener. Lip readers were later on convinced he’d mouthed “hijo de puta” in the direction of Magath. Was the striker merely repeating back some offensive words to Magath (“Oi, Felix, do you think I called you a hijo de puta?”) or employing a term with altogether different connotations in Peruvian Spanish? “I didn’t see it and don’t care either,” said the Wolves coach diplomatically.

    It’s rare to see opposition managers subjected to hostile chants in the Bundesliga. But then again, Magath is not your regular opposition manager but an ex-manager in seven out of 18 stadiums. In Gelsenkirchen, where he was fired in March 2011 after buying so many players that the DFL nearly ran out of registration forms – the club cited “transfer irregularities” as a reason for the dismissal – they were particularly unhappy to see him.

    Farfán had set the tone earlier in the week with an interview in Sport Bild. “All managers who Schalke have had in the last few years gave something to the club,” the 27-year-old claimed, “the only coach who didn’t leave anything positive behind was Magath. He only left behind fines [for the players].” Farfán went on to question the manager’s “militaristic methods” and wondered about a lack of “humanity” in his approach. “I can laugh now but it was a tough time,” he said.

    His current squad probably share that view. Ten days ago, Magath had them running through the Wolfsburg woods (again) and when they had finished, they found that most of their water bottles had been emptied on purpose by the coach. Magath tried to justify this exercise in sadism as an “educational measure” afterwards – “I wanted them to learn to share resources as a team,” he claimed – but the episode is symptomatic of a course that has seen him veer dangerously close to caricature of himself. “The last dictator in Europe,” as Jan Age Fjortoft once called him, should slowly realise that random acts of unkindness are no substitute for a coherent strategy on and off the pitch.

    Wolfsburg went down 3-0 at Schalke, without as much as a whimper of resistance. “We don’t find the right way to play together at the moment,” said the Brazilian midfielder Diego. But how could they? Magath has already used 21 different players out of his ridiculously large squad of 32, and the constant tactical changes and different lineups are only betraying a lack of any ideas.

    After spending the best part of €70m on new players in 18 months, Magath has simply lost the plot. Players keep popping up in unlikely, unsuited positions, then get banished from the squad only to re-appear in other, even more unfamiliar roles some weeks later. The manager’s take on Diego’s lack of impact was revealing in that respect. “We thought we’d sell him so we didn’t put the team together according to his needs,” claimed Magath. It all begs one question: according to whose needs exactly has this side been put together?

    His raving hire-and-fire – policy and draconian measures have left him with an army of disgruntled ex-charges eager for revenge throughout the league, that’s for sure. “Some players are especially motivated against former managers, especially against Felix Magath,” noted the S04 midfielder Roman Neustädter. “The fact that Magath constantly runs into players who want to get their own back has become a permanent competitive disadvantage,” wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung, only half in jest.

    Their third defeat in a row has seen them slip to 17th place. What was supposed to be a challenge for European places in turning into a relegation battle. “The new slogan at the club is ‘football is everything’,” recalled Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, “but at the moment it’s anything but football here”.

    Magath still feels secure enough to insist that his dictatorial rule at the Volkswagen club will go on – “it’s not necessary (to involve more people in the decision-making process),” he said – but the owners surely can’t tolerate this rotten run forever. In fact, it’s a complete mystery why the company has acquiesced in Magath’s particular type of waste management this far.

  3. Ericle says:

    Danny Murphy’s confirmation of the Observer story:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/29302031

  4. Ericle says:

    And yet more from Danny Murphy in today’s Evening Standard:

    Felix Magath is instantly associated with the recent decay at Fulham but former skipper Danny Murphy believes there were signs of rot at Craven Cottage long before the German’s appointment in February.

    Magath was sacked last week after a disastrous seven months; a period that saw the club spiral from a struggling Premier League side to a team stuck firmly at the bottom of the Championship.

    While Murphy was among those pleased to see the back of Magath, the retired midfielder says there was trouble afoot when he was released two years ago. Fulham, then under the ownership of Mohamed Fayed and with Martin Jol as manager, had finished ninth in the Premier League but a summer exodus sparked a freefall.

    “It goes back a lot further than Felix Magath,” Murphy said. “He’s taken a hammering, and rightly so, because what he’s done has been ludicrous but the problems started the summer I left.

    “Clint Dempsey, Mousa Dembele, Andy Johnson, Bobby Zamora, Zoltan Gera and Dickson Etuhu all left. That’s half a dozen players — one of whom was top goalscorer for four years.

    “They didn’t offer him a new contract, which he’d asked for, until the February and he’d already scored 20 goals. Andy Johnson was a valuable asset and a brilliant character.

    “I was the captain and they tried to reduce what was already an average wage. The way they treated us was not far off a disgrace.

    “Was it the manager? Was it the chief exec? Was it someone above? We don’t know. You make decisions together and they made those choices.

    “They never needed to lose Clint, AJ or myself. Dimitar Berbatov was their only marquee signing, who was great for about four months. I’m not suggesting you keep the same team forever but to change it so radically and so quickly was always going to be negative. I made that known at the time.”

    Fayed sold his club to Shahid Khan the following summer but there was no bright new dawn, with Jol sacked before Christmas, Rene Meulensteen in and out within two months to be replaced by Magath, who oversaw the club’s drop into the Championship.

    There was another cull of players this summer, with club captain Brede Hangeland among those shown the door, having found out about his release via email.

    It may seem like an unconventional way to part with one of Craven Cottage’s most popular players but — like issuing a remedy of cheese soaked in alcohol for a thigh injury — Magath was not one to do things by the book.

    “As I said, it started long before Felix but he had the chance to fuse a squad ready for the Championship; keep some players and let some go,” said Murphy. “What he did was to allow an exodus of players. I think some of them were desperate to get out because of the regime and the crazy ways he was running the place.

    “One story that springs to mind —much more significant than using cheese to fix an injury — is training for two-and-a-half hours on a Friday afternoon, the day before you play Stoke in a game you’ve got to win to stay in the Premier League. The lads were dead on their feet before half time.

    “Ideas like that can’t be dressed up as anything other than crazy. The lads just couldn’t adapt to his ways. We can smile at the stories now but he’s part of a bigger picture that has put the club in this predicament.”

    Caretaker boss Kit Symons will be in charge of the team again tonight as Fulham host Doncaster in the third round of the Capital One Cup.

    Whoever takes over will face a huge rebuilding job when he inherits the damaged squad. Murphy is among those being linked with the job, although the 37-year-old has not yet had any contact with the club.

    “I think the hierarchy will speak to lots of people. I don’t think they’re going to rush it. They need to make an informed decision because whatever formula they’ve used to recruit managers recently has failed miserably.

    “It’s a shame that it’s come to this. It used to be a good place for people to play and for young lads to learn. Now it’s just trouble, trauma and stress.”

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