Premier League Clubs Managed: Fulham (2003-2007)
After a testing year experiencing relegation with Sunderland in 2018, Chris Coleman was recently trying to reboot his managerial career in China with Hebei China Fortune. However, this venture came to an end recently. Coleman’s peak moment came three years ago when he led Wales famously to the semi-finals at the 2016 European Championships.
In the Premier League, he played for Crystal Palace and Blackburn Rovers in the 1990s and spent four years as boss of Fulham, keeping the west Londoners comfortably in the mid-table reaches during that period.
Born in Swansea, Coleman’s first professional contract as a player was at Manchester City aged 16. However, he never made a senior appearance for the Citizens and left after just a year on their books citing homesickness as the reason for his departure.
Playing days at the Palace
He signed for his hometown club Swansea and spent four years with them, making nearly 200 appearances. He moved in 1991 to Crystal Palace and it was with the Eagles that he made his Premier League debut, featuring on the opening weekend in their thrilling 3-3 draw with newly-promoted Blackburn Rovers.
They reached the semi-finals of the League Cup in that campaign but were relegated in the Premier League on the final day of the season. Promotion from the First Division followed in 1994 but relegation came a year later for the second time. In December 1995, he bought his time at Selhurst Park to an end and signed for the Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers in a £2.8 million deal. He made 143 appearances for Palace, scoring 16 times which included five goals in the inaugural Premier League season of 1992-1993.
Coleman’s career at Blackburn never really took off. A persistent Achilles injury restricted him to 28 league appearances and he took the brave decision to drop down two divisions to continue his playing days at Fulham. Signing for the Cottagers in 1997, it began a 10-year association with the club as player, coach and eventually manager.
Fulham were in the Second Division on his arrival but had Kevin Keegan as manager and were owned by the Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed. Keegan quickly appointed Coleman as club captain and he led Fulham to the Second Division title in 1998-1999.
When Keegan left to take the England post in March 1999, he would be succeeded by Jean Tigana and he kept Coleman as skipper. However in January 2001, his professional career as a player effectively ended in a serious car accident in Surrey just days before an FA Cup third round tie with Manchester United. Coleman broke his leg in the accident and although he did play one reserve match in 2002, it was clear to Chris that he wouldn’t recover sufficiently to continue his playing career. In October 2002, he announced his retirement and took a place on the club’s coaching staff.
Flying at Fulham
In April 2003, Tigana left Fulham after contract negotiations broke down. Coleman was given the opportunity to take caretaker charge of the first-team for the final five matches of the season. At the time, the Cottagers still had an outside chance of being dragged into the relegation dogfight.
In his tenure, Fulham won three games and only lost once away to Leeds United. Finishing clear of danger in 14th place, he became the youngest permanent manager in the Premier League when he was given the job permanently by Al-Fayed.
Many pundits tipped them to struggle but Fulham were flying in his first full season at the helm, finishing in a creditable ninth place in the Premier League table. The west Londoners won 3-1 away at Manchester United and the goals of Louis Saha had them shooting towards potential European football before he joined the Red Devils in the 2004 January transfer window.
Andy Cole, Claus Jensen and Tomasz Radzinski were among the new arrivals in the summer of 2004 but Fulham couldn’t build on the success achieved by Chris in his first season. They finished 13th in 2004-2005, despite thrashing Norwich City 6-0 on the final day of the season.
Under his tenure, Fulham became a tough customer to play on home soil. Liverpool FC, Chelsea and Arsenal all tasted defeat during his managerial spell with the club but away from home; they became far too easy to play against. They achieved just one away victory in both the 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 campaigns. Before the end of the 2007 season, he was gone.
A seven-game winless run saw the club hover only four points above the relegation zone in April and beaten 3-1 at home on Easter Monday by Manchester City. The decision was taken to relieve Coleman of his duties and he was replaced by Northern Ireland boss Lawrie Sanchez.
A club statement read: “Chris has provided a fantastic service during his 10 years at the club, but as a team and organisation Fulham Football Club has goals to attain and success to achieve – and by no means can this be compromised.”
From the wilderness to Wales
For five years after his departure from Fulham, Coleman’s management career threatened to end up in the wilderness. He went abroad first to Spain to manage Real Sociedad in July 2007 but only stayed in the post for six months, resigning after disagreements with the club’s president over the vision and direction they were heading in. At the time, Sociedad were playing in the second-tier of Spanish football.
He then returned to England, replacing Iain Dowie as boss of Coventry City in February 2008. He only managed to win 34 of his 117 matches as manager of the Sky Blues and was sacked at the end of the 2009-2010 season after a disappointing 19th place finish in the Championship. In May 2011, it was back on his travels to AEL in Greece in a stint that lasted a meagre 12 games. His career in the management game looked to be in danger of slipping away until the national job with his country came up in the most tragic of circumstances.
In November 2011, the British football world was stunned by the sudden death of Wales’s first-team manager Gary Speed at the age of just 42. The Welsh team were experiencing an upturn in their fortunes and eventually, Coleman, who had won 32 caps for his country in his playing days, agreed to take the position two months after Speed’s untimely death.
His first game was an international friendly defeat in New Jersey to Mexico in May 2011. Things didn’t start well and he became the first Welsh manager to lose his first five matches with the nadir being a 6-1 away defeat in Serbia. This meant qualification for the 2014 World Cup finals was never likely but a 2-1 victory over Scotland in October 2012 was the galvanising effect required for his management.
Reaching eighth in the FIFA World Rankings three years later, Wales qualified for the 2016 European Championships – their first major tournament appearance since the 1958 World Cup finals. Led by Ashley Williams with heroic performances from the likes of Joe Allen, Sam Vokes, Aaron Ramsey and of course, Gareth Bale – Wales went further than anyone could have expected. They topped their group ahead of England before beating Northern Ireland and Belgium in the knockout rounds. A 2-0 defeat to eventual champions Portugal in the semi-finals was no disgrace. It had been a tournament to remember for Welsh football and put Coleman back on the radar of many clubs following his management here.
He stayed in the Wales post with the aim of getting them to their first World Cup finals in 50 years. Sadly, it didn’t work out. Serbia dominated their qualifying group and a shattering 1-0 home defeat in their final group game to Republic of Ireland meant they even missed out on a play-off spot. Coleman resigned a month later.
He took over at struggling Championship club Sunderland in November 2017 but couldn’t halt the Black Cats’ slide into League One. He was relieved of his duties just before the 2017-2018 season concluded due to a board takeover.
Coleman wasn’t out of the game for long. In June 2018, he moved to China, succeeding West Ham-bound Manuel Pellegrini as the manager of Hebei China Fortune. They finished sixth in the 2018 Chinese Super League and have Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Mascherano among their squad. However, after just five points from nine matches in the new season and an early exit from the Chinese FA Cup by Chongqing Lifan, Coleman left the club in May 2019.