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last updated Thursday 08th July 2004, 10:05 AM
Fulham  Manager Chris Coleman
Fulham Manager
Chris Coleman

Few expected Fulham to be contesting at the business end of the table last season when the former Wales centre-back Coleman was handed the manager's job full-time in the summer following a caretaker stint after the departure of Jean Tigana.

At 34, he is the youngest boss in the top flight and has done a remarkable job in management after breaking his leg in a car crash which finished his playing career.

Fulham recorded a famous 3-1 win at Old Trafford in October to signal their intentions and, despite seeing Manchester United prize away top scorer Louis Saha during the January transfer window, Coleman pushed his side on to the brink of UEFA Cup qualification before eventually finishing ninth, the club's highest Premier League finish since returning to the top flight three years ago.

Coleman, though, does not intend to rest on his laurels as he prepares for the new Barclays Premiership campaign, which will kick off with Fulham back at their traditional Craven Cottage home in August.

'Last season was a dream start to my managerial career, we had a good season and finished ninth even though we didn’t have a home, but I am under no illusions as to how hard this next one will be,' reflected Coleman.

Fulham assistant Steve Kean
Fulham assistant
Steve Kean

'We have a fantastic team spirit, both on and off the pitch at Fulham, and it is mine and Steve's job to make sure that it remains that way, and that we continue to develop as a team and hopefully improve on the standards that we have set for ourselves up to now.

'We have great fans, a great spirit and now a home to call our own; there is no reason why next season cannot be as good, if not better, than last.'

“Financially we are better off now. We are looking to strengthen our squad and I have money to spend. I’m also hoping to make Junichi Inamoto’s deal permanent.

“We have approached certain clubs about players but these things take time.”

After shelling out millions to take Fulham from the depths of the Football League back up into England's elite, the board believe their on-going commitment to the current management set-up will continue to pay dividends.

Chief executive Jim Hone said: 'Management stability is an important ingredient for football success.

'The new contracts signed by Chris and Steve provide that stability and enable us confidently to pursue our long-term business development plans for Fulham in the knowledge that football matters are in capable and trusted hands.'

Hone, said that the club had bought back the rights to the Craven Cottage site, which had been sold to a property developer who had intended to convert the stadium into Harrods-branded luxury flats. Hone could see no reason at the moment why Fulham would leave Craven Cottage, the club's base for 103 years and their spiritual home.

Hone said that the money spent on the stadium, which has been upgraded to a 22,000-seater, was just a shade under £8 million. "I would be a happy man, though, if sometime in the future I could present a business plan to the board and the chairman saying that we had outgrown the capacity of Craven Cottage," Hone said.

He hinted that the fan base had shrunk during their two years at Loftus Road, and was expecting an average of 90 per cent capacity over the coming season. Hone said that the prime Thames location gives the club the possibility of increasing revenues through the construction of bars and restaurants looking out across the river.

"We don't even want to contemplate the consequences of relegation," he said.

Fulham kick off their pre-season campaign against Watford at Craven Cottage on Saturday, July 10, before then hosting Old Firm giants Rangers and Celtic over the following two weekends.

A two-match tour of Scotland will follow, with a game against Feyenoord in Holland scheduled for August 8 ahead of the new season opener against Manchester City six days later.


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