Fulham have moved to arrest their alarming slide down the Premier League table by appointing René Meulensteen as head coach, ostensibly to work alongside the manager, Martin Jol, in the hope his arrival serves to galvanise an ailing first-team squad.
The club's new owner, Shahid Khan, has been consistent in his public support of Jol despite the team having lost seven of their 11 league games to date this term, and the last four matches in all competitions culminating in Saturday's 4-0 capitulation at Liverpool. That defeat cast them below the relegation cut-off going into the international break and, with arguably few viable candidates available to take up the managerial reins, has now prompted a radical reshuffle of the coaching structure.
Convincing Meulensteen, who had worked alongside Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United from 2007 before leaving Old Trafford in the summer following David Moyes's appointment, to move to south-west London rather than take up a role as director of football with the Qatar national set-up was key to that overhaul. The move, first mooted two months ago, has been instigated with Jol's blessing and the new man was quick to insist he had spent "many hours" talking with his compatriot prior to accepting the position, even if his arrival effectively dilutes the manager's powerbase at the club.
The 49-year-old will take his duties on the training pitch with immediate effect, adding to Jol's coaching staff of Michael Lindeman and Billy McKinlay. The hope is Meulensteen provides a spark to revive a team that has been floundering since they thrashed bottom-placed Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park last month, though further scrutiny will be placed on Jol's position if the next sequence of results – starting with the visit of Swansea City before games against West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa – do not prompt an improvement.
The Dutchman, whose role at United is rather underplayed in Ferguson's recently published autobiography, began his coaching career at NEC Nijmegen before spells in the Middle East and an initial five-year role at United as a youth and reserves coach. He returned to Old Trafford after a brief period with Brondby to rise to the role of first-team coach. "We are all delighted to welcome René to Fulham," said the club's chief executive, Alistair Mackintosh. "There was always going to be a battle for René's services and, with the assistance of our chairman, Shahid Khan, we have been able to bring one of the best coaches in the world to Fulham."
Indeed, Meulensteen has made no secret of his desire to manage in his own right since departing United and, should Jol depart in the future, there would be a framework in place to replace him if required. For now, however, the pair are looking forward to working together. "I have spent many hours talking with Martin Jol and we share a vision of how football should be played and how players should be developed," said Meulensteen, who spent just 16 days at the Russian club, Anzhi Makhachkala, this summer before departing as they sought to reduce their wage bill. "It is our job to make sure we can bring this vision to life on the pitch for the fans."
The Dutchman had been contacted about the vacant managerial position at Palace last month but was quick to declare he had no interest in the role at Selhurst Park. The Premier League's bottom club continue sounding out potential candidates to succeed Ian Holloway, who resigned over three weeks ago, as they seek to make an appointment during the current international window. Interest in the Wales manager Chris Coleman has waned, Tony Pulis has indicated a reluctance to take on the role, Martin O'Neill has linked up with the Republic of Ireland while Aitor Karanka has joined Middlesbrough in the Championship.
Palace have spoken to their former manager Iain Dowie, who left the club controversially in the summer of 2006, and have also discussed the role with Dynamo Moscow's head coach, Dan Petrescu, with the recently recruited sporting director Iain Moody playing a leading role in the process to pinpoint a new manager.