Most will be surprised by Owen Coyle’s decision to exit his position as Manager of overperforming Burnley to become the new main man at the nearby Reebok stadium. Many have questioned how a man who in the summer turned down a job with Celtic, a decision even more perplexing when he was born in the East of Glasgow.
In many ways Coyle judgment has been called in to question on why the job at Bolton, currently (in league position terms) a downward step is seen as more attractive than Celtic last summer and Burnley now. One of the big factors that led to Coyle rejecting Celtic’s advances was his so called love for Burnley and in particular the need to complete the job he has started. Few could imagine that less than 6 months later that Coyle has left Burnley for unfancied and relegation fodder Bolton. Bolton is a club who after all up to a few years ago was not dissimilar to Burnley – a dilapidated old stadium, a club living on past glories who had not seen the echelons of the top division for a number of years. And in many ways some will question his wisdom of leaving a seemingly solid and safe position at Burnley to a club who could be described by many as on the wane.
But despite this Coyle has done well in remembering history and in particular how ruthless and fickle football fans and in particular football Chairmen can be. Recent history is littered with examples of young Managers who like Coyle have led their teams against the odds from the Championship to the Premier League. During that time these managers were treated as gods amongst their supporters, and a miracle money generator by the Chairmen. The list may include Aide Boothroyd who miraculously guiding an underfunded and unfancied Watford from the foot of the Championships to the Premier League. Billy Davies who guided Derby to promotion to the Championship in a whirlwind campaign. Or Micky Adams who lead an on the brink of administration Leicester City back to the Premiership in 2002.
All three have much or had much in common with Coyle, they all were young and relatively inexperienced managers who’s talents to motivate their clubs to achieve goals above their expectations quickly, probably ultimately led to their demise. All three managers at one time or another, were touted as the next big thing and would often be mentioned as a candidate by the press when a ‘bigger’ managerial vacancy would arise. But despite this all three have failed (as of yet) to fulfil the early promise that they have showed. In Davies’s case promotion with a threadbare squad which was only lightly invested in to try to retain Premiership status was forgotten as he was booted out a few months into the season, his heroics less than 6 moths earlier seemingly forgotten. For Boothroyd, a man who was able to not only ensure stability at Watford at a time where League One was seemingly inevitable, but to take an average Championship playing squad to the Premiership was not enough. And finally to Adams who led a club on the brink of administration with a scattered playing squad to the Premiership, only to suffer due to the demands of Premiership football.
All three were capable of creating teams who punched above their weight, who then raised expectations for fans and Chairmen above reality. All three suffered from the consequences of achieving as the Specials sang “Too much too soon”.
Coyle will have recognised the parallels of his position with the three managers when assessing his options, some will say he should have stayed put and waited for a bigger job to come up. But there are no guarantees in football and if and when that ‘bigger’ job should arise Coyle’s stock may not be as valuable as it is now.
Coyle knows that both what the best-case scenario is for both Bolton and Burnley. For Burnley he knows that even if the best case scenario of maintaining Premiership status is achieved this season, the challenge next season will be even greater; with a likelihood of 19 clubs with more money to spend on new players to compete against. He also knows that should Burnley be relegated, that despite the obvious forward strides made that they would still find the Championships a challenging place. Burnley if relegated would by no means be the most funded club in the league and would find the battle for promotion back up to the premiership as tough as ever.
Whilst at Bolton he knows that despite the league position there is some grain of stability, that even if they are relegated this season, they would most likely be amongst the favourites to succeed in bouncing straight back up to the Premiership. He knows that at Bolton, he has a platform to show that he is not a one trick pony, and if he achieves a modicum of success that it won’t be long until the really bigger jobs would be back on the agenda – albeit for him in a much more favourable position.
Football is a fickle business, supporters will get on the back of a player or manager following a few underpar performances, Chairman will fire, rehire and recruit as they choose; we should not criticise the likes of Coyle therefore when seeing a challenge and an opportunity, that he has chosen to take it.