Coming to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
I went to Bolton this weekend, the first time that I had been to the town in fifteen years.
But, you don’t want to read about that. You want to read opinion on the decision by Bolton Wanderers to dispense with the services of Owen Coyle and various members of his backroom staff.
It is just shy of three years that Owen Coyle came to The Reebok from Burnley, banishing the memory of the dark days of the Megson era and becoming the first manager to have his name splashed across the stadium. And it started well, leading the club to safety and then to Wembley. But then something happened and the club went on a downward spiral that it has still to get out of. If the sacking of Owen Coyle is the answer to that, then it has happened at exactly the right time, albeit probably twenty four hours late.
There are various things that can be pointed out that OC did wrong at the club. His constant bigging up of the opposition, the numerous times he said ‘Barclays Premier League’, his constant whoring of Gary Cahill and then, to a lesser extent, Mark Davies. He was also unlucky, although the injuries to Stuart Holden and Lee Chung-Yong, as well as David Wheater, are not a good enough excuse to explain where we now find ourself.
His transfer dealings do not stand up to scrutiny. Holden is an example of how well he could do when he got it right, but it will be a cold day in hell before someone convinces me of the attributes of Darren Pratley. Jack Wilshere and Daniel Sturridge can be held up as good loan deals, but Gael Kakuta and Tuncay can be a counter argument, before you get to Vladimir Weiss and Rodrigo Moreno. As for his sales, one only needs to look at Ali Al Habsi, head and shoulders above Jussi when the two played the whole of a season, albeit Al Habsi at Wigan. No one could have seen Ricardo Vaz Te coming, except maybe Big Sam, and Joey O’Brien’s renaissance is a miracle of modern medicine. However, Matt Taylor’s departure to Bolton South, when he had been Coyle’s number one choice the season before, was an aberration. Taylor may not have been first choice, but he was an alternative to the meanderings of Martin Petrov and could be relied upon to score one spectacular goal per season. The same could not be said of Robbie Blake, surprisingly signed in the first place and then given a contract extension when the most natural place for him would have been the retired home for very old footballers.
There are others. David N’Gog is a good worker but not a goalscorer and, for his price tag, is not a success. Tyrone Mears isn’t a Premier League defender and his signing was another old boy recruitment. The signing of Chris Eagles has been a success, but only this year. Ivan Klasnic scored goals, his raison d’etre, but his lack of application towards the end of last season either showed a lack of willingness or a lack of man management. Or both.
He also let himself down with team selection, this season fitting square pegs in round holes, with Mark Davies on the wing and Eagles on the wrong wing. Sam Ricketts, a better right back than left, has been on the bench whilst Mears continues to huff and puff his way to match fitness. Ricketts, it is assumed, has been blamed for letting some balls go over his head whilst playing in his secondary position. As for Zat Knight, he may have played well this season, but I can point to three goals that he had been solely responsible for. And I don’t mean at the right end. It says a lot that he has been pinpointed as our best player in the back four.
But it was his team selection, allied to his tactics, last season that let him down. He hung onto Paul Robinson too long and couldn’t see the value in playing Gretar Steinsson, a better player than Dedryck Boyata. For whatever reason, it seemed that whenever Fabrice Muamba had a good game, he was dropped to the bench. The selling of Gary Cahill left him a large hole but although it was obvious that Cahill had been carrying Knight, it took until mid February for Coyle to try a Ream-Wheater partnership, which solidified the centre of defence somewhat.
His continual selection of Kevin Davies, even though the captain himself said he wasn’t playing well, caused problems, as there were three similar players up front. The purchase of Marvin Sordell was thought to be an answer to these problems, but he was rarely played, the manager preferring to stick with SKD and one of N’Gog or Klasnic. Even when SKD started scoring, the manager persisted with one of the other two. And his has continued into this season, with the on loan Benik Afobe preferred to Sordell. So much for the most natural goalscorer at the club.
If you play SKD, then the natural thing to do is hit it long. This isn’t SKD’s fault and he has more facets to his game then just heading it on or holding it up. But there needs to be someone alongside him who can run with the ball and none of his other partners are able to do this. Playing 4-4-2 without Sordell is wrong headed. This season, not playing Sordell at all has proved to be as much as the captain has fallen even more foul of old Father Time.
There have been positives. Bolton finally got to Wembley, although the less said about the game itself the better. The youth policy seems to be bearing fruit and it is a real shame that Josh Vela has been injured this season, although he probably should have been blooded earlier. It says much for Coyle the man that he had so much backing, even as the club were getting relegated. But, as he said on that day nearly three years ago, you either move on or you get moved on.
And he has been moved on. There is, I sense, a genuine sadness that it has come to this. Owen Coyle was a journeyman footballer and only played for one English club. But it was this club that he played for. And people should remember that when sending threats to his son on social media. Time will soften what has happened, just like it has with Sammy Lee (although most will want someone in charge before our next game, if only to miss hearing Little Sam talking about positives). Owen Coyle will always be welcomed back to T’Reebok.
As long as he doesn’t win.