Felix Magath’s blueprint to save Fulham revolves around the fans

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When Felix Magath first arrived at Fulham’s training ground at Motspur Park in February, the players knew only of his reputation.

And they were afraid of it.

Nicknamed “Saddam” the German had a reputation for being not just a disciplinarian, but a dictator, working his players to the precipice of exhaustion to get them in shape for matches.

“That was a problem,” Magath admitted in his prematch press conference ahead of this weekend’s game at White Hart Lane. “The players read a lot of things and they were afraid.”

They had reason to be afraid. They had been leaking second-half goals at an alarming rate, suggesting the squad was running out of steam too early, and neither Rene Meulensteen nor Martin Jol before him had been able to plug the dike.

They were just 1-0 down to Manchester City at halftime – they lost 5-0. They were in a scoreless draw with Southampton until the 65th minute – they lost 3-0. They were scoreless at the Emirates at halftime – they lost 2-0.  They fell to Liverpool, Newcastle, Swansea, and Tottenham all in the last 10 minutes.

So the front office brought in the man who would plug the gap.  The man who would whip them into shape.

Except he didn’t.

Sure he wakes them up at the crack of dawn – to eat breakfast together.

Sure he sticks them in a basement – to make phone calls.

Felix Magath’s strategy to save Fulham from the drop concentrates on reminding the players what really matters: the fans. They’ve been stuck in the Fulham call center to thank fans for renewing their season tickets with personal phone calls.

He’s invited fans to come attend open training sessions and then dine with the players for lunch after.

And it’s worked.  Just watch the elation when they score a goal.  Lewis Holtby’s made a habit of acknowledging the fans after every score, whether it’s by his doing or not. Pajtin Kasami is a hug machine. Hugo Rodallega’s cried – twice.

Holtby will likely return to Tottenham Hotspur after the season, especially if the club is relegated. Why should he care? He has no real reason to, yet he does. Magath has instilled into this club what should really matter to the players.

Because when it comes down to it, if the club is relegated the players can get another job, they can go to another team, they can sign another contract.  But the fans can’t. And when Magath focuses on that, it all becomes clear.

This doesn’t just apply to Fulham, mind you. It applies to all the clubs fighting for relegation, but this club has made it clear that the reason they’re fighting against the drop is for those in the seats, not those on the pitch.

For the Whites, it may just save their season, and they have the German “dictator” to thank.

“The players work with us,” Magath said behind his funky looking glasses, “not only me, but my athletic coach and my assistant coach – and they realize that we are not monsters.”

“Don’t worry about it, it’s not so bad.” It won’t be, if they stay up.

Everton loses Coleman to leg break on Ireland duty

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A horror tackle from Wales’ Neil Taylor snapped Seamus Coleman‘s leg in gruesome fashion on Friday.

Taylor was given a red card, and Coleman was stretched off the pitch in the 0-0 draw.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

Ireland manager Martin O’Neill confirmed what was apparent from the match replay: the Everton man has a broken ankle.

“It’s a bad break. He’s a fantastic player and character. It’s a major blow for the lad, his club and us.

“Apparently it wasn’t the best challenge in the world – I haven’t seen it. He’s gone to hospital. I saw his reaction immediately and it didn’t look good. He was holding is leg up and it didn’t look good.

This is not only awful for the player, but causes stress as Everton mounts its assault on the Top Six. The right back has also manned right mid for Ronald Koeman this season, and has four goals and four assists in 26 Premier League matches.

Mason Holgate, Muhamed Besic, and Phil Jagielka have played some right back for Everton, while Ramiro Funes Mori has deputized at left back.

Emotional McClean speaks after honoring deceased teammate (video)

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After wearing the No. 5 to honor of his recently deceased teammate, James McClean met with the media following Ireland’s 0-0 draw with Wales in World Cup qualifying on Friday.

McClean played with Ryan McBride at Derry City, and left Ireland camp to attend funeral services after McBride died following a match last weekend. McClean was also mourning the death of friend and Sinn Féin politician Martin McGuinness.

Throw in a gruesome injury to teammate Seamus Coleman and, in McClean’s words, “I’ve had better weeks”.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

McClean, 27, spoke with evident emotion following a Man of the Match turn in Ireland’s draw (video below).

“It was a really tough week. The lads here have been great. They rallied around me. The manager was first class as well. He let me go up to Derry there on Tuesday and say my goodbyes. It’s been a tough week with Seamus injury as well. It’d been nice if we had have got a win and ended on a positive note, but it wasn’t to be.

“(McBride and McGuinness) were going through my thoughts today. I wanted to put in a performance that would make them proud. In the national anthem and the moment’s applause, holding my wee girl, it was emotional but I tried to put that in the right way into my performance. Hopefully tonight I’ve done the lads proud.”

World Cup qualifiers: Wales in trouble; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear of Ukraine and three above Iceland midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.