Magath and Solskjaer's demise after drinking from poisoned chalices
Felix Magath and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer already had something in common. As players, both scored winning goals in European Cup finals: Magath for Hamburg against Juventus in 1983; Solskjaer for Manchester United against Bayern in 1999. Now their managerial ventures in English football share a doomed symmetry.
Their exits happened within hours of each other on Thursday night, and shared a common message. Fulham's sacking of Magath and Solskjaer's axeing (though the line of "mutual consent" was trotted out later) were proof of the desperation that drives big decisions at struggling football clubs suffering from a distinct lack of direction.
Both had been panic appointments in the first place, made by clubs already lurching towards disaster. In turn, both managers must have realised that they were only being offered borrowed time. Magath became Fulham's third manager in a matter of weeks when appointed by owner Shahid Khan in February. Solskjaer, in January, walked into a club riven by a civil war from which the reverberations were still being felt in last month's Malky Mackay affair.
Neither could prevent relegation; both clubs slid down with little but a whimper. Magath took over a team in 18th place on Feb. 14, while Solskjaer's Cardiff were in 17th on Jan. 2. Once relegated, both failed to suggest that promotion at the first attempt would be possible. Solskjaer was lavished with nine new players by owner Vincent Tan, yet had won just one point from a possible 12.
Magath's failings were greater yet, with just one point from seven matches placing rock-bottom Fulham in danger of a second successive relegation. A clear-out of ageing and expensive talent had been necessary, but it left the cupboard bare, while the German's unfamiliarity with English football and his outdated techniques were a wholly unsuitable fit. Magath likes life in London, enjoys the cultural delights on offer, but he is utterly unsuited to working there. His three Bundesliga titles meant nothing.
American businessman Khan (owner of the NFL franchise Jacksonville Jaguars) has made a third straight poor decision over his managers. Last summer, Martin Jol was kept on when the signs were he had lost interest, compatriot Rene Meulensteen proved that for all his coaching pedigree he is no motivator of men. Brief interludes with media-friendly English "football men" like Ray Wilkins and Alan Curbishley working on the staff further reveal a kaleidoscopic approach to finding the formula.
Fulham, a club previously renowned for being well-run and sensible, pulled itself in myriad directions. Meanwhile, former owner Mohamed Al-Fayed -- who kept the club in the Premier League for 12 years after taking over a lower-division concern -- performed a mocking chorus of insults against the regime that succeeded his.
Unlike Magath, who perhaps might now retire, Solskjaer is just 41, with time on his side, but his choice of club to make a return to English football was ill-advised. Such advice came from Sir Alex Ferguson, whose abilities as a kingmaker, coupled with the David Moyes disaster, are beginning to look cursed. The Norwegian had previously held off taking over at Aston Villa in the summer of 2012, citing family reasons, yet took the plunge at a club with far less stable foundations, with Tan still vengeful against his previous appointment (Mackay), and in open warfare with supporters over the change of club colours from blue to red.
Poisoned chalices, both, grasped in hope rather than expectation. Despite the healthy parachute payments that clubs receive on demotion from the Premier League, the financial imperative is a swift return. Once up there, economies of scale dictate that clubs cannot afford to slide away. Magath and Solskjaer proved themselves incapable of swimming against the tide of two troubled clubs and paid the usual, predictable price.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.