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Bionic Coleman lives the dream

last updated Friday 05th March 2004, 10:55 AM

If you are looking for a Cup fairy tale this weekend, forget Tranmere Rovers and Inverness Caledonian Thistle. Try Old Trafford instead. Chris Coleman has known the heartbreak of losing at the semi-final stage of the FA Cup, but that was a scratch compared to the life-threatening injuries he suffered in a car crash three years ago.

Fulham defender Moritz Volz
Fulham manager Chris Coleman
Chris Coleman Stories

He has just spent another week in hospital recovering from a viral infection and undergoing minor surgery, but Coleman hopes to be back at his post tomorrow. Fulham's bionic manager has been rebuilt again.

The night that Coleman was cut from the wreckage of his Jaguar in a Surrey lane has left its scars. He was close to being able to join in training games again until his latest setback. But the massive dose of realism he received in the wake of the accident has fortified him during the unreal events of the last year.

Coleman began life as a football coach with the Fulham under-10 team at the start of last season. He finished the season as a Premiership manager. Even for a game that often has its head in the clouds, it is a tall story.

Prodigy managers are nothing new. Like his opposite number tomorrow, Sir Alex Ferguson filled his first vacancy at the age of 32, but that was in the Scottish Second Division. The League Managers' Association actively promote the idea of an apprenticeship in the lower divisions or in minor office.

This exception to the rule has no doubt owed something to the flagrantly contrary nature of the Fulham chairman. It was one thing for Mohamed Fayed to ask Coleman to hold the fort following the dismissal of Jean Tigana with five games of last season remaining, quite another for him to call off the managerial search after four of them.

Ironically, it was Tigana who fast-tracked Coleman back into the first-team dressing room midway through the season. The former captain's personality and presence were soon being felt in team talks.

Despite his public insistence that the job was not for him, Coleman knew he was kidding himself after his first game in caretaker charge. He was a sounding board for the chairman's initial thoughts on succession - Van Gaal, Toppmoller, Hughes - but he convinced Fayed that the best solution was staring him in the face. By a short and winding road, Coleman had found his vocation.

They fought shoulder to shoulder during the 'Battle of Saha' in January. Defeat to the lure of Manchester United did not shake Coleman's resolve to make a stand over his ambitions for Fulham. Even when a comment about the bullying tactics of Louis Saha's agent was twisted into an attack on Ferguson in some headlines, Coleman kept his cool.

Fulham defender Moritz Volz
Fulham manager Chris Coleman masterminding the 3-1 defeat of Man Utd
Chris Coleman Stories

He has seen nothing in the job that frightens him, and has rekindled Fayed's enthusiasm for the future of a club who are happily heading back to Craven Cottage next season with their Premiership status confidently assured.

Three years ago, he was playing alongside Saha, Lee Clark, Luis Boa Morte and others on his teamsheet. He has put distance and respect between him and them, sparing nobody his criticism during a recent lull in form.

Earlier this season, Coleman admitted that management was swallowing up his time and with it some of his friendships and pleasures. He is particularly mindful of the fact that he no longer gets to see his 10-year-old son playing football and rugby as often. Not for the first time recently, his life has changed. The dedication and determination he showed in rehab are needed again.

It was United who blocked his way to Wembley with Crystal Palace in the semi-final of 1995. Coleman was in a Kevin Keegan Fulham team who narrowly lost a fifth-round tie at Old Trafford in United's Treble year of 1999.

His accident happened just prior to a third-round defeat to Ferguson's men in 2001. But this latest episode in the series comes four months after a deserved Fulham Premiership triumph in Manchester and seven days after a spirited comeback at Loftus Road. The man who has beaten the biggest odds of all is still full of surprises.

Source Daily Telegraph by Clive Tyldesley
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