It was one year ago today that Fulham FC hired Felix Magath. On Valentine's Day 2014 a breaking story shocked the football community. Felix Magath, a hardened German manager, had been installed as manager of Fulham. No mention was made of Rene Meulensteen, and the confusion prevailed for over a week. In the end Meulensteen had been sacked and Magath was given the job along with his backroom staff. Fulham were about to embark on one of the most turbulent and challenging periods in their history, with madman Magath at the helm.
The timing had surprised nearly everyone. Inexperienced manager Rene Meulentseen had been put in temporary place after the sacking of Martin Jol in November 2013, and was handed the permanent job shortly thereafter. Meulensteen endured a tough start to life, losing 3 of his first 4 matches in charge. However, an inspired performance away at Norwich gave Fulham all 3 points on Boxing Day, and he was given money to spend in January by Shahid Khan. Fulham signed Kostas Mitroglou and Lewis Holtby in the window, and the Cottagers looked to be on the up. After two straight awful performances at home against Southampton and Sheffield United, the pressure looked to be on. And with Manchester United and Liverpool to come, Meulensteen's future looked bleak.
On February 9th Fulham travelled to Old Trafford. In one of the bright points of the season, we took the lead early on through Sidwell and silenced the crowd. For the next hour we weathered attack upon United attack, and cracked with two goals conceded in two minutes. But in injury time Darren Bent nodded home to snatch a famous draw and galvanize the troops. Three days later we took the lead twice against Liverpool, but ended up being defeated by a stoppage time Gerrard penalty. The team suddenly looked like it had belief, and we were going to fight until the death. It finally looked like Meulensteen had turned Fulham's fortunes around. The lively wing play of Kieran Richardson and the midfield magic of Lewis Holtby were breathing new life into a previously lethargic Fulham squad.
And yet two days later Meulensteen was shown the door. Magath was installed in an odd decision that had many scratching their heads. Magath enjoyed great success in the Bundesliga, winning the Bundesliga three times with Bayern and Wolfsburg. But he had absolutely no experience in England, and didn't seem to be set out for a relegation dogfight. Meulensteen lashed out at the Fulham ownership claiming they had "hit the panic button". Looking back, that statement was quite prophetic.
Felix Magath came with a reputation. Players in Germany called him 'Qualix', which in German means someone who runs people to death. His strict style of coaching and obsession with fitness were infamous, and was known to demand the most from his players. However, some thought that this no nonsense brand of management could propel Fulham to safety.
His first match in charge came away at West Brom, a must win match away at a fellow relegation challenger. Ashkan Dejagah struck first, but we were pegged back by a Baggies equalizer in the final ten minutes. More disappointment was to follow, as successive 3-1 losses to Chelsea and Cardiff put us in deep trouble. A nervy win against Newcastle followed, but two more losses against Everton and Man City beckoned. But the Whites looked to replicate the heroics of the 2008 Great Escape with the next two crucial wins. With well over 3,000 travelling fans in attendance at Villa Park, Rodallega headed home to give the Whites a superb 2-1 win. A crucial home win over Norwich, courtesy of Hugo again, granted us precious momentum heading into the final stretch. The Magath doubters were being silenced.
The final four games were key. It was what separated Fulham from the grandeur of the Premier League and the abyss of the Championship. Spurs away, Hull home, Stoke away, and Palace home. We needed at least two wins, and seven points would probably be enough. A 3-1 away loss to Spurs was expected, and the focus then shifted to the final three gigantic, season defining matches.
What came next was the most heart wrenching moments of my Fulham supporting life. Hull City came to the Cottage in relative safety with little to play for, while we had quite the opposite. After a cagey first half, Dejagah and Amorebieta struck within 3 minutes in the second half to give Fulham a 2-0 lead. We were cruising, and with 15 minutes left everyone just began to sense safety creeping in. But Jelavic scored from a horrible defensive mistake, and in the 87th minute Shane Long finished from close range to deny us all three points. Just like in countless other matches under Magath, Fulham let up a late goal and threw away vital points. We now had the unenviable task of having to win our final two games and hope for the best.
An away match at the Britannia would decide our fate. But a move of pure madness by Magath summed up his reign perfectly. In the biggest match in recent Fulham history we couldn't afford to slip up. We needed a solid backline and quick counterattacks to get the win. So naturally for someone as mentally unstable and sadistic as Felix Magath, he started Dan Burn at wingback. The 6'7 hulking centre back was played on the wing, and forced to defend tricky wingers such as Oussama Assaidi and Marko Arnautovic. Predictably, Burn was hung out to dry and Fulham put in the worst performance imaginable, slumping to a 4-1 defeat and crashing out of the Premier League. We were down. The enduring memory of that abysmal season was Dan Burn getting slaughtered by Assaidi's pace on the wing, through no fault of his own. Madman Magath had struck again.
Even more surprisingly, Khan decided to stick with Magath to steer us out of the Championship. It seemed like stupidity to reward the man who brought us down with another chance and full control of transfers. And Magath bought indeed. After a large exodus by Fulham's aging Premier League squad, he bought a grand total of 13 players. From big money striker Ross McCormack to anonymous Mark Fotheringam and Adil Chihi, it looked like an odd assortment of players. And they didn't hit the ground running by any means. We lost 6 out our first 7 league games, leaving us dead bottom with 1 point from a possible 21.
Magath was sacked in September after yet another defeat, this time away at Nottingham Forest. Possibly the worst manager in Fulham FC history, he got our proud club relegated after more than a decade in the Premier League. He was known for his sadistic training techniques and odd medicinal advice, such as using cheese to treat Brede Hangeland. The demanding training sessions led to fatigue and numerous late goals conceded. His strong personality clashed with club legends Danny Murphy and Brede Hangeland, angering fans.
Felix Magath ruined this club, and Kit Symons is still dealing with his bizarre decisions today. In a crazy spell characterized by odd signings, dreadful performances, clueless substitutions, and angry supporters, Fulham fans can be comforted by one thing: the knowledge that no manager, no matter how hard they try, will ever be worse than Felix Magath.