Late last night, our Creative Director & CSO came across a development on a teletext-like information service that almost made him splutter into his main course: the sacking of René Meulensteen, the urbane, much-travelled Dutch coach, by Fulham FC (‘Fulham’).
Meulensteen, who despite not turning 50 until next month, has been in charge of clubs in countries as diverse as Denmark, Russia and Qatar, was ejected by Shahid Khan, a Lahore-born US billionaire who made his fortune in car bumpers. Prima facie, this seems like – to misuse an expression from modern sociology godfather Max Weber – a sound business view: Fulham are presently rock bottom of the English Premier League, and with just twelve games to, Khan has clearly crunched the numbers and judged that the risk of relegation – which would incur tens of millions of dollars in lost income from television rights – is simply too much to countenance.
However, a closer look at the Fulham situation reveals this decision to be a possible paradigm of a concept popularised by University of Maryland Distinguished Professor George Ritzer: the irrationality of rationality. Khan’s decision may have a certain logic to it, but to anyone with footballing insight it seems ludicrous. Meulensteen was given just 75 days and one transfer window (which ended a little over two weeks ago) to revamp a struggling, dispirited team. While in absolute terms positive results have been hard to come by, in recent games Fulham have finally looked like a coherent unit of some promise: on 9th February 2014, they salvaged an outstanding point at a highly-motivated Manchester United, while earlier this week only a cruel injury time penalty prevented a home draw with Liverpool FC, undoubtedly the English Premier League’s form team; Fulham were leading 2-1 with just 18 minutes left.
The new coach – no less a figure than Felix Magath, a legendary disciplinarian whose 2009 German Bundesliga triumph with VfL Wolfsburg remains one of the great football stories of recent times – now has just days to get to know his new charges, decide on a playing style and identify his winning eleven before the vital relegation clash at West Bromwich Albion next Saturday. Magath has no transfer opportunities open to him if he concludes that the squad available to him lacks the qualities he is seeking. René Meulensteen, meanwhile, will not have the opportunity to see the fruits of his massive revisions – and Fulham FC may ultimately be no closer to safety. But the logic of the machine has proven overwhelming.