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Football: Management is hard, but not as hard as the two years after my car crash; CHRIS COLEMAN EXCLUSIVE BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP TOTTENHAM v FULHAM.

Byline: paul SMITH CHIEF FOOTBALL REPORTER

CHRIS COLEMAN remains remarkably untroubled by talk of the sack for a boss who's been on managerial death row for three years awaiting inevitable dismissal.

And if the critics are to be believed his exit would be likely to be followed by Fulham's top-flight demise.

A 5-1 opening day thrashing at Manchester United had punters racing to the bookies to gamble on the Welshman being the first Premiership boss to lose his job this season.

But talk of the dole queue was premature. After taking seven points from a possible nine in their last three games, Fulham travel to Tottenham today in a decidedly healthier position than their under-achieving neighbours.

Coleman remains defiant, vowing: "I will be sitting here at the same time next year and people will be saying the same thing - I will get the sack and Fulham will go down.

"I can't tell you why, it's just this perception people have and until it happens it just goes round and round.

"But I have been in charge here for three years - and over 150 games - and we've finished ninth, 13th and 12th so I must be doing something right.

"Getting the sack doesn't bother me in the least, I don't lose any sleep over it. I know if I lose four games in a row I'm for the high jump. If I win three on the bounce I'm one of the best managers in the country and I will be linked with a host of other jobs."

In adversity Coleman draws strength from the tragic car accident that brought his playing career to a premature end and prepared him for the road that lies ahead.

"The two years that followed the accident were the hardest of my life," he explained.

"Maybe, looking back at it, somebody must have been looking after me upstairs because they must have been priming me for this.

"Management is hard. It's great, but it's hard. But it's not as hard as those two years after the accident. I was in an awful amount of pain but mentally it was a killer.

"It was soul-destroying but it gave me enormous mental and inner strength. It made me a lot stronger. I've had some tough times in management, but they don't come close to that.

"You also find out who your friends are when something like that happens and I can honestly say I had plenty."

One of those was Blackburn boss Mark Hughes, who was manager of Wales at the time.

Coleman recalled: "I couldn't perform. Physically, because of my leg, I was finished as a player.

And I wasn't enjoying it.

"Mark knew I was going to announce my retirement but he still called me into the Welsh squad and brought me on for a few minutes against Germany, which was a tremendous gesture and one I don't think I will ever be able to repay him for.

"I got a fantastic reception from a full house at the Millennium Stadium. On the night I was tearful. I'm not an emotional person but I knew that was it for me.

"I looked around and thought, 'You footballers, you don't know how lucky you are'. It was heartbreakingly hard, but it was a nice way to finish."

Some people argue that Coleman's job security isn't helped by working for a seemingly difficult chairman in Mohamed Al Fayed.

But the manager disagrees. "Our chairman is an entertainer, he likes to entertain and he likes us to entertain our fans.

"If he sees everyone working hard and having a go, he's happy. He's never once in all my time in the job tried to get involved in me buying a player, selling a player or picking the team.

"He knows from when I first took the job that that has got to be me and me only. Last year we lost four on the bounce and he called me in and said don't worry, the guys are trying.

"For me he's great. He's honest, up front and tells me what he thinks and I can tell him what I think.

"I'll stand my ground if I don't agree with something but he respects that and he expects it from me.

"If I didn't stand my ground I would have been out of the door at the end of my first year!"

CAPTION(S):

COUNTING HIS BLESSINGS: Chris Coleman says 'Getting the sack doesn't bother me in the least'' ENTERTAINER: Al Fayed
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 17, 2006
Words:752
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