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With no trade to fall back on, it's about survival of the fittest





Felix Magath arrived at Fulham last week and immediately made a daring attempt to manage expectations.

In the days leading up to his opening press conference, Magath's old players rolled out their fond memories of working with the man, insisting that it was unfair to call him Saddam Hussein while confirming that his methods tended to emphasise the transformative nature of dawn runs in the forest, followed by lunchtime runs in the forest before the day ended with the total change of emphasis that only a dusk run up a mountain can provide.

Magath has long been viewed as football's answer to Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, although perhaps lacking the overwhelming pity for the suffering of mankind that Hartman brought to his work.

Magath is the son of a US serviceman from whom he was estranged for much of his life so while it would be stretching it to say his training methods are a cry for help, they certainly are a way of attracting attention.

During a pre-season training camp in the Austrian Alps, Magath was said to have had second thoughts about the day off he had promised the players. Instead they went on a four-hour hike up a mountain. After two-and-a-half hours, the Brazilian striker Grafite collapsed.

"I would never want to treat human beings like he does. I would never want to hurt a player as much as he does," Uli Hoeness said which may be getting close to the reason that a manager like Magath offers so much appeal when things are bad.

Magath arrived at Fulham and lowered expectations about his methods. "Nobody has died," he said when asked about his reputation. "Until now, everybody has lived at my training sessions."

While Magath can always fall back on that "until now" if things get really bad, this was a great leap forward for a manager who wishes to put forward some key performance objectives. No matter how tough Magath's training sessions become, he will, it is hoped for everyone's sake, be able to point out that once again nobody has died and therefore the day can be considered a triumph.

Fulham, of course, had been equally audacious by announcing Magath's appointment without taking the traditional – and clearly old-fashioned – step of first revealing that they had dismissed his predecessor. This could also be a groundbreaking development. Chelsea, for example, are paying large sums of money to current and former managers so it may not be too long before a coach goes into exile, while retaining the loyalty of certain players, conducting surreptitious training sessions and holding weekly press conferences.

Rene Meulensteen retained the loyalty of himself at the very least, expressing bewilderment that Fulham had panicked in this way when things were going so well.

Meulensteen said that the club were "freaking out", something that seemed to baffle him, even if freaking out is probably a more common reaction to the prospect of relegation than many will admit.

Fulham's owner Shahid Khan said Magath had been recommended by Alistair Mackintosh, the club's chief executive, a recommendation based on Magath's "history of producing results". Mackintosh knows that Fulham need results quickly and he will have noted that Magath has always been able to do that. For Fulham, there is no long-term.

Yet Magath also speaks to a different part of us, the part that likes to see professional footballers punished for essentially existing and not being grateful for it.

When Tom Finney died recently, many were eager to compare the amorality of the modern player with those of his era.

A leader in The Guardian contrasted Finney's time with the "mega-mouth, mega-money, mega-ego world of big British football". Finney, they said, "came back from the war, kept up the day job as a plumber even through his international days, never simulated injury, never badmouthed a referee and certainly never considered a Rooney-esque weekly wage of £300,000". Finney, they concluded, embodied "a saner age".

Certainly he embodied a less just one, an age where a man of his gifts could be denied a move to Palermo as the Preston chairman Nat Buck ended the conversation with the words, "What does tha' want going to Italy for, Tom? You can forget about that. If tha' doesn't play for us, tha' doesn't play for anybody."

Finney's greatness was often presented in contrast to the riches of the modern player. The modern player might have considered the coverage and felt responsible for denying Finney anything more than £12 a week were it not for the fact that Finney's wage was usually reported as a noble thing. It was a reflection of his modesty before the mega-ego world took over and ruined everything by making the modern player rich and free.

Finney said he felt no envy for the modern player and if he never considered a "Rooney-esque weekly wage of £300,000" it was because nobody ever offered him one or anything like it.

Maybe Finney was a better man than many of the modern players and nobody could dispute his greatness, but he was also a product of his circumstances. He fought in a war and worked as a plumber and it's not a moral failing in the modern Premier League player that he doesn't have to do either.

There are many valid reasons to question Rooney's new contract but the only foolish one is to ask if a footballer is worth it. Rooney may not be worth it but United could find footballers who are.

As they begin another long run up a mountain, Fulham's previously well-cosseted players may be looking enviably at Rooney, questioning why he has it so good when they have to suffer.

They will be consoled by Magath insisting that nobody has died on his watch and promising that Fulham can stay up. They are the key objectives. Survival is all that matters.


Sunday Indo Sport