With Fulham struggling to produce anything of quality this season, Rene Meulensteen has taken the reigns, tasked with rescuing the storied London club.
The green manager’s biggest challenge will be to inspire a squad that seems to have little fire burning beneath them at times.
“It’s a massive challenge,” Meulensteen told Sky Sports. “But at the end of the day, when you’re faced with a challenge like this, it comes down to making sure you get the basic things right.”
The biggest challenge of the squad is none other than its name-brand striker Dimitar Berbatov.
The 32-year-old Bulgarian throughout his career has been on the end of a back-and-forth debate between fans and pundits alike. Some criticize him for a lack in the work rate department, others praise him for moments of brilliance on the ball with a brilliant first touch and pinpoint accuracy.
With just a single Premier League goal to his name this season in 12 starts, Fulham’s number-9 has given his critics new life and new ammunition.
“We need to make sure that you stay mentally strong, that the fans are getting behind the team, and we need to make sure that the players stay mentally strong and believe,” Meulensteen said to Sky. ” And then you make sure you get the basic things right, work rate, discipline, that sort of thing.”
Berbatov has proven to be Meulensteen’s biggest conundrum in the work-rate department, and that’s not news to anyone.
The Mirror’s Darren Lewis called him a “luxury player” and said, “In the situation they find themselves, Fulham now need fighters and scrappers. Not flair players more suited to a grander stage.”
Whether Meulensteen can not only transform his position from temporary to permanent but also transform the club from bottom-3 caliber to Premier League assured will no doubt hinge on a correct decision regarding their main man at the front.
Berbatov’s agent Emil Dantchev told the Mirror that rumors of his client’s desire to leave Craven Cottage this January are true. He was quoted as saying “Dimitar is not happy at Fulham.”
But not so fast.
In Fulham’s energetic 2-1 loss to Tottenham midweek, Berbatov looked at times a new man. He showed more touches of brilliance than the entire season prior. Sure there were lackluster moments as well, but it was a clear improvement.
Should the Cottagers decide to offload their biggest signing of the last few years, it would potentially save them a good £2 million ($3.27 million) in wages. However, they’d also become even more barren in the attack. After all, Fulham have scored a paltry 12 goals all year, with just Darren Bent and an injured Hugo Rodallega waiting in the wings.
Should Rene Meulensteen give in to the vultures, with clubs like Trabzonspor and West Ham circling, or should he stay the course and keep faith in his main man?
It’s hard to say what the right answer is, but the other options sure don’t seem much better, if better at all.