RYAN Tunnicliffe has admitted he smiled when heard about Felix Magath’s sacking at Fulham – after the German manager had booted the midfielder out of the club after just one training session.
Tunnicliffe was signed for the Cottagers on January 31, 2014 by his former coach at Manchester United, Rene Meulensteen, and then handed his Premier League debut against his former club a week later.
Three days after that he was lining up opposite Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutinho in a 3-2 defeat to Liverpool, a result that saw Meulensteen sacked and Tunnicliffe’s world turned “upside-down”.
Magath, who had won two league and cup doubles in successive seasons as manager of Bayern Munich, was appointed.
That turned out to be bad news for Tunnicliffe.
Magath took one look at him in an intra-club training game on a Sunday before calling him and Larnell Cole – whom Meulensteen had also signed from United – into his office the next day to tell them they weren’t wanted.
Tunicliffe was baffled, but phoned his agent who organised a loan move to Wigan, where he admits the shock of Magath’s decision affected his form and he under-performed with the Latics.
Tunnicliffe, 24, returned to Fulham and took part in a full-preseason that summer before a week ahead of the start of the 2014-15 campaign Magath again told him he wouldn’t be involved with the first team.
It was on loan at Blackburn Rovers where Tunnicliffe heard Magath had been sacked after eleven games without a win and his former Reserve boss Kit Symons was handed the reins.
Tunnicliffe stresses the whole experience made him stronger, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time.
“It was a bit of a bit of a head-scratcher,” Tunnicliffe says. “From being at United to signing for another Premier League club with a manager I’d worked with previously to being told three weeks later by a manager you’d worked with for a day that you’re not wanted.
“You fight your corner and question the decision, but I think he played at being not very good at English and just mumbled his way through. You leave the meeting scratching your head.
“I was lucky to get a good loan move to Wigan at the time, but it was difficult because I had been so happy to get a chance in the Premier League for the first time in my life working with a coach I had known since I was nine years old.
“I had gone down on deadline day and then I’m making my Premier League debut at Old Trafford before playing Liverpool. I’ve had a week in the Prem and I’ve played against two of the top sides in the league against some great players. But it all went downhill from there.
“It did mess with my head a bit and it was tough to deal with. I went to Wigan and there was no way I was the player I had been. I had played in the Championship with Ipswich (on loan from United) and did well but at Wigan maybe my head wasn’t right. I couldn’t perform, it had hit me for six. It showed in my performances. The first time I went to Wigan I was terrible, it’s as simple as that.
“I was only 21 at the time and my world had been turned upside-down with the click of a finger. It was a tough one to take but I’ve learned from it, it has made me stronger and if something like that were ever to happen again I’d know how to deal with it.
“When [Magath] got sacked I had a little smile. It opened the door for me to resurrect my Fulham career which I did. Obviously I wasn’t happy with the results because it was my parent club, but, being honest, I don’t think anyone in my position wouldn’t have been happy he got sacked because I went to Fulham to play for Fulham, it’s a great club.
“Kit Symons rang me the following December and said, ‘I’m going to recall you from Blackburn, how do you feel about that?’ Obviously I was happy I was going to go back if I was going to play.”
Symons was sacked just under a year later, with current boss Slavisa Jokanovic taking over. Fulham were in relegation trouble but Tunicliffe was a regular and the club escaped relegation to League One.
“The first year with him it was great, “Tunnicliffe says. “I played fifteen games to try to help keep us in the league, which we managed. It was probably the best part of my Fulham career.”
Last season, though, Tunnicliffe played just ten times before Christmas before another loan move to Wigan. He was released by Fulham in the summer and it went right down to the last week ahead of the start of the season before he joined Millwall.
Despite his up and down time at Fulham, he is excited to be playing at Craven Cottage again this weekend.
“I can’t wait to go back. When I first came here it was the game that I circled on the calendar. I’ve still got a lot of good friends on the staff and it will be good to see everyone there and then hopefully pick up a win if possible.
“I don’t think you can stop them for 90 minutes, there are going to be a lot of times in the game when they’re going to keep the ball. It’s about what we make them do with the ball. If you play in front of us then we’re happy to get in our shape and be solid.
“We won’t be able to stop them playing out from the back but we need to prevent them getting into our final third. It’ll be important to be fully concentrated.”
Image: Millwall FC