The Reebok revolution: How Coyle brought sexy back?

Jack Dowling11 January 2011 - 10:57



Another FA Cup weekend has passed, bringing with it a traditional and welcome break from the recent splurge of festive Premier League fixtures.  Most teams in the division have played 21 games so, with half the season gone, now would seem like a natural time to assess the performance of one of the campaign’s biggest success stories – Bolton Wanderers.   


Trotting on

A decade ago, the Trotters were playing a pretty passing game and competing for promotion from what was then Division One. What followed was - and remains - a period of sustained presence in the top flight.  Now, as we enter a new decade, Bolton are once again playing pretty football but, on this occasion, they are attempting to provide a platform to sustain a European presence beyond two seasons.

The classic cliché is that the Premier League is a marathon, not a sprint. Having earned hard fought draws against the likes of Manchester United and Everton, Bolton have shown the endurance required. Whilst inflicting heavy defeats upon Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham and Newcastle United reveals a sprinter’s mentality, Owen Coyle’s side are maintaining a healthy pace and sit 7th in a congested league. European football appears a very realistic target.

It is certainly a great priority for Swedish striker Johan Elmander, the club’s top goal-scorer. The player has enjoyed a surprisingly fruitful start to the season and was the league’s second top scorer by late November. During his purple patch it emerged he was not willing to sign a new contract with Bolton and it was suggested that he would be sold in the January transfer window to help pay part of the clubs purported £90 million debt. In early December, reports surfaced that Liverpool and Spurs were ready to swoop and sign him for free at the end of the season.

El Man has come good

However, at 29 years of age Elmander would prove a risky purchase in the winter window.  Despite having almost a 1:3 goals to game ratio at Brondby and Tolouse – his former clubs – he is yet to show any real consistency at Premier League level. The high fee Bolton will doubtless charge for his services would also put off potential suitors in January. If he is to leave, it will not be until the summer, as his absence would hurt Bolton’s European ambitions. However, it isn’t farfetched to imagine that the charismatic Coyle could persuade him to remain, especially if they finish in the top six.  

The Elmander rumours may have provided respite from the incessant speculation surrounding the future of Carlos Tevez but journalists prophesising Bolton’s economic demise were wide of the mark. Bolton’s debt is virtually a non-issue. Whilst figures such as a 300% increase in debt hogged the headlines, an interview with Trotters owner Eddie Davies brought welcome relief to the supporters. The situation is similar to that at Chelsea and Manchester City, as the £90m loan is essentially a gift from the owner.  

To put this £90m debt into context, one only has to look to Internazionale of Italy. Regardless of their successes last season, they currently sit 7th in Serie A and have racked up an eye watering loss of €509 million over the last three seasons. Even if Owen Coyle fails to lead The Trotters to Europe, it is safe to say that any reports of economic ruin or sales to balance the books are, at the very least, alarmist.  

Whatever the ramifications of the sport beyond the touchline, it is on the pitch where Owen Coyle has improved Bolton’s fortunes dramatically. Since his controversial move from Burnley, Coyle has altered the long ball tactics of the Gary Megson era to unlock the potential of a talented squad. Gary Cahill, Fabrice Muamba and Mark Davies: all players with potential but little to show for it, have been revitalised under Coyle. The most remarkable improvement has been seen in club captain Kevin Davies, who has showcased his abilities with the ball at his feet to earn a first England cap at the age 33.

 The Coyle factor

Lesser managers would have done away with Bolton’s physicality altogether, and perhaps encouraged football akin to Barcelona and Arsenal in an attempt to energise the supporters. However, Coyle is smart; the set piece danger which Bolton has always posed remains an integral part of their game. Now the width of the pitch is being utilised, the passing ability of their midfielders is no longer overlooked and confidence is sky high. As a result, Bolton are now scoring an average of two goals a game at home; entertainment is almost guaranteed.

Coyle could be described as somewhat ruthless in his decision-making, having left St. Johnstone the week before a cup final to join Burnley. Such a career path also reflects his burning ambition, considering Burnley’s fortunes evaporated soon after he jumped ship to Bolton last January.  Either way, Coyle has proven himself to be one of the most promising British managers of his generation.  

Phil Gartside – the Bolton chairman – would hope the club can match their managers’ ambitions, else one could imagine the Scot sitting in the Reebok’s away dugout before long.  But in the meantime, we should put such thoughts aside, and simply revel in the renaissance of Bolton Wanderers.

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