Rene Meulensteen, Fulham’s new coach, has managed in Europe before.
The Dutchman, 49, who is best known for his work as an assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, was in charge of the Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala for 16 days in August.
He had also coached the youth team of NEC Nijmegen, where he played as a professional in his native Holland. Meulensteen, as well as Qatar’s Under 18s, plus Al Gharafa and Al Sadd in Doha.
That was before he joined United as a youth coach, in 2001, where he impressed and was promoted to reserve team manager in 2005.
“We all liked his coaching,” the defender Adam Eckersley said. “It was the best I’d had in my career, to that point. Training was very tactical and well-organised. Before that, training wasn’t so structured and I felt like I was going a bit stale.”
Under Meulensteen, Eckersley progressed and made his first-team debut in October 2005.
Meulensteen also studied Barcelona’s youth and reserve model and decided that was the way forward for United, but he did not stay to implement it.
His reputation as a progressive coach began to spread. In June 2006 he was offered a three-year contract at Brondby, one of Denmark’s leading clubs. The salary was superior, plus it was a chance to be the manager, and he took it.
As he left United, he took with him Eckersley and another reserve, Mark Howard.
“Rene told me to come to Copenhagen, see the city and the club,” Howard said.
“I had an offer of a three-year contract to weigh up. I knew the manager and that Brondby were playing in the Uefa Cup.”
Howard said that United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had suggested “it would be a good move for my development – and that it would be a step up playing against players who were fighting for their win bonus”.
Howard moved to Denmark. “I was a bit hot-headed,” he said. “I picked up some stupid red cards and had to calm down. I needed to think about the team and not just myself, but the first six months were very difficult.”
Howard calmed and stayed; Meulensteen did not.
“He left in the seventh month after a row with the board about who should be buying players,” Howard said. “Everyone thought that I would go back to England because I was one of ‘Rene’s Boys’.”
He stayed. “I was sad that things didn’t work out for Rene because he’s a really good coach with top people skills, he was just lacking in management experience.
“But I didn’t have to go, too. The sporting director told me to stay and I did. Things started to improve and I began to enjoy playing at Brondby.”
Howard was voted player of the year in 2007 when he was just 21.
Meulensteen returned to Manchester, close to his family home in Wilmslow, and Ferguson took him back on at Old Trafford, this time working with the first team as a skills coach.
After a year, he was promoted to the role of first-team coach. He was popular, very confident and equally adept at his job, though Ferguson once warned him to be private and not so indiscreet when talking with journalists.
He would not be the first Dutchman in football who liked to talk. Meulensteen was seen as being tactically astute, and his opinions were respected by Ferguson, who wanted him on the training ground with his players.
He loved his job and would tell his wife each morning that he was going to see his “other family” – at United. Ryan Giggs, Robin van Persie and Ruud van Nistelrooy were fans of his work.
When Ferguson stepped down, he told his replacement, David Moyes, that he hoped he would retain his coaches. Moyes did not, though he offered Meulensteen a lesser job.
Moyes is criticised for surrounding himself with his own lieutenants and dispensing with the services of the goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, Meulensteen and the assistant manager Mike Phelan, but he felt he needed to be surrounded by people he had worked with before and could trust. Meulensteen went to Russia, which did not work out; he was sacked by Anzhi, who were in turmoil.
Soon he was back in Manchester, before taking up the position as coach under compatriot Martin Jol at Fulham last month.
Less than three weeks later, Fulham sacked Jol and Meulensteen took control of the first team, whom he led to victory against Aston Villa on Saturday, ending a run of six defeats.
He is tasked with keeping Fulham up. His contract runs until June 2014.
He will hope that, this time, he enjoys a longer stay as manager than he has in the past.
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