Owen Coyle was brought in to avoid relegation. What went so wrong?
January 2010. A man with a big grin and a massive love of the catchphrase sits in front of the huddled media at The Reebok Stadium and tells them all that he had to leave Burnley because, in football, you either move on or you get moved on. A nice line in patter and, for over a year, it worked well.
Then something happened. In the search for a catalyst as to what happened to Bolton Wanderers the favourite excuses have been the injuries to key players, the fixture list at the beginning of the season and the fact that the team had not recovered from the drubbing by Stoke in the cup semi-final last season. Naturally, the truth isn’t as simple as that and a lot of the blame has to be lain at the door of the manager himself.
So, let’s have a look why, shall we? Today we will look at some of the excuses given as to the poor season plus the comings and goings of players.
I think we’d all agree that the long term injuries to Stuart Holden and Lee-Chung Yong were a major factor in our relegation. As good as Chris Eagles was at times, he was no substitute for Lee and no one dominated the midfield like Holden can. Then there was what happened to Fabrice Muamba, although at the time he was being used as a substitute, the broken leg to Tyrone Mears, Sam Ricketts long term injury ruling him out of the early season, problems to both Joe Riley and Gretar Steinsson that caused the right back slot to look bare and, even at the end, David Wheater doing his knee. Darren Pratley caught a virus, Jussi was injured, Marcos Alonso came in, got injured and went out and NRC was carrying a knock at the end. That is a litany of injuries that would have knocked any team.
You do wonder, however, how all these injuries could have been caused. But the majority happened in games and could not have been avoided, bar LCY’s and we’ll get to that later. What happened to Muamba was a freak of nature that no one could have predicted and most of the others were game related injuries. Of those that weren’t, Mears was on the receiving end of a Zat Knight tackle and Jussi, to be fair, is getting old. The blame for the reoccurrence of Stuart Holden’s injury can be taken by the doctors and that is the clubs fault, rather than the managers.
As for LCY, I feel that that can be blamed on OC. I know that it seems like a long time ago and that we went through it then, but if we hadn’t been playing a Conference team, as a favour between OC and one of his many friends in football, then the chances of the injury happening would be shortened. A mistimed tackle by a player who is ‘just not like that’ and we are robbed of a vital part of the team.
The arguement at the time, and I feel it still stands, is if you are playing a team of a much lower quality, then players of a much higher quality are at risk. The reason why some managers don’t play their first team in cup games against lower division sides is to manage the risk of injuries. I haven’t got an issue with sending a team to Newport County, I believe that teams in higher divisions should be seen helping those lower down, but to send a team that included probable first choices Jussi, Mears, Wheater, Knight, Robbo (at the time at least), LCY, NRC, Petrov, Eagles and Klasnic was just asking for trouble. And trouble called.
So, injuries. OC’s fault: Not so much
THE FIXTURE LIST:
There is no doubt that the fixture list at the beginning of the season hit us hard and as soon as it was published, many people winced. There was every possibilty that we would find ourselves hovering over the relegation zone, if not in it, by the time Chelsea left T’Reebok at the beginning of October, but no one could imagine the devastation that was left behind. An easy win at QPR and a gutsy performance against the future champions was followed by capitualation to Arsenal (having a man sent off didn’t help I grant you), Liverpool, Chelsea and a humiliation by United when we hardly got out of our half. Your future is not won or lost on how you perform against these teams we told ourselves, and then found that to be incorrect as everyone around us beat a team in the top six whilst reverse fixtures brought the same problems, a home draw against Arsenal our only point against those that finished in the league European spots. Twenty one goals were conceded in those first seven games, a record for the Premier League. If we had picked up two more points we would have been OK. Everyone else did.
OC’s fault: He’s not in charge of the fixture list, so you can hardly blame him for the start. But the results against those teams were down to him, as we shall see tomorrow. As a result, the blame has to attach to the manager.
The majority of the departures last summer are those that most would agree with. Samuel, Cohen and Joey O’Brien weren’t needed and whilst Elmander had scored goals, his lip pulling when moved out of position to faciliate Daniel Sturridge showed a lack of team ethic. His goals for Galatasary may show otherwise, but the decision to not provide him with the contract that he needed was the correct one.
However, three departures stick in my craw. The botched attempt to sell Gary Cahill to the highest bidder drew not one bid until Honest Harry made a last ditch attempt for less than the asking price. The summer long whoring of Cahill across the division, and beyond, leaves a very bad taste in my mouth, especially as we ended up with less than half of what we were asking for. Good luck to Gary, his Champions League winners medal and call up to the European Championship squad show what a good player we had. But the time it took to sell him and the price that we initially looked to sell him at, regardless of what he is now worth after five months at Chelsea, meant we didn’t have the money to plough back into the side.
This meant the departure of Matt Taylor. There are those who did not weep when he left but it left us frustratingly weak on the left hand side. Martin Petrov has played better this season, but it is no surprise that the season before Taylor played more games as he was a more consistent presence down the left side. So his departure came as a surprise considering that he was doing a better job than Petrov. To be fair, there were too many players in the midfield but the only one who could offer a different service was Taylor. In my opinion, a bad sell.
And then we come to the mother of all bad sales. I realise that, over time, Adam Bogdan has become a good goalkeeper, faster than we would have expected. But, at the beginning of the season, there was nothing to suggest that this would be the case. Jussi was obviously a shadow of his former self last season and, as a result, the goals leaked. Meanwhile, Al-Habsi was performing miracles behind an even worse defence. There is little doubt that Al-Habsi should have been kept and, if he had, there is a possibilty that we would have got something out of the games that we narrowly lost at the beginning of the season. As it was we sold him to a relegation rival who have stayed up with Al-Habsi again being lauded for his goalkeeping attributes. Bogdan may well end up being a better goalkeeper than the Omani, but that is not the point. With him in the team we may have stayed up and Wigan would almost certainly gone down. As it is, the reverse is true.
OC’s fault: Very much so.
The best of a bad bunch, Nigel Reo-Coker has already jumped ship after activating his get out clause that no one saw coming or at least were aware of. A bad decision on the club’s part maybe, but you can’t blame Reo-Coker for doing it. His signing was a coup of sorts for the club, although the silence of those clubs who were also in for him was deafening, he performed as well as anybody in the team so you can’t really fault his signing.
Of the rest, Chris Eagles just about justified his price tag of very little. Bought to play along the midfield in a more attack minded formation, due to LCY’s injury he was asked to play mostly on the right and acquitted himself well. However, and this is the issue that put off other prospective buyers, he has the tendency to be more out of games than in them and from his position probably should have scored more goals. However, just about passes muster as a good signing.
As for the rest, you don’t need to get me started on Dazza Prazza. Brendan Rodgers must piss his sides every time he hears the name. Yes, he was a free, but I’d still be looking for the money back. He is just not Premier League quality and it is no surprise that Rodgers took the decision to leave him out of the Swansea team towards the end of their promotion season. As such, alarm bells should have rung in the Reebok offices. Instead, his signing was gleefully announced as a major signing and he then spent the rest of the season determined to prove them wrong. One goal in the league, a free header against QPR, a number of woeful appearances and a mystery virus at the end of the season. As I said in my round up of the midfield, he has proved to be the worst buy in a long time. Even though he was free, there should be recourse to getting some money back.
Although he was £4million more expensive, David N’Gog was less of a failure but, signed as a striker, he didn’t do the job that he was bought to do. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but N’Gog’s record at Liverpool didn’t exactly set the world on fire and he has carried this on into his Bolton career. Whilst this is a little unfair on him with the way he actually plays, holding the ball up well, running unselfishly and leading others into the game, like Elmander before him that wasn’t the reason why he was bought. This makes him a failure, although through no fault of his own.
As for the rest, the signing of Marvin Sordell and Gregg Wylde are ones for the future, although OC’s annoyance at FIFA sticking to the rules and refusing to sanction Wylde’s transfer when a fellow ex Rangers player was playing in Norway had you screaming ‘LOOK AT THE RULE BOOK’, whereas the signing of Sordell, for this season at least, has to be considered a poor one as he absolutely, definitely refused to play him, instead forever bringing Klasnic on so that he could look for all the world like he couldn’t be arsed. And play that way as well. Tim Ream’s signing from the States was a gamble but he hardly put a foot wrong when comparing him to Zat Knight and played well enough to make the gamble of signing him pay off. It will be interesting to see how he plays alongside Knight in the absence of David Wheater as Wheater looked the stronger defender between the two. As it is, Ream can be considered a qualified success.
So, all in all the signings have to be considered a failure in the context of the 2011-12 season, although there is every reason to suspect that they will do better next year. But we won’t be in the Premier League then, will we.
OC’s fault: Darn tootin’
And with that, we come to the end of part one. Join us next time, when part two will look at team selection, tactics and approach to the media.