Megson: “very good”, but Bolton now “pass a lot more” says Coyle graft, Jamie Redknapp talked of how Coyle had “transformed” the club, Rohan Ricketts compared Mark Davies to Andres Iniesta and it became fashionable to favourably contrast this positive, expansive manager with his predecessors Sam Allardyce and Gary Megson, for whom every game seemed a war of attrition and every press conference one long sigh of self-justification. But when Wanderers stuttered towards the end, humiliated at Wembley by Stoke in the FA Cup semi before dropping to a finish of 14th, bloggers emerged waving statistics ‘proving’ the club had barely moved on from the Big Sam and Meggy days. One piece was titled ‘The Myth of Owen Coyle’.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in between. There are clues at the club’s training base. First you walk through an entrance decorated with a mural showing Vince Lombardi, Ayrton Senna, Michael Jordan and a roaring lion. It’s undoubtedly eye-catching, temporarily inspiring, ultimately redundant.
Then you enter Coyle’s office, where in the hour that follows Bolton’s manager uses the words “love”, “loving”, “lovely” and “loved” over 20 times – about his family, football, his players. And you suspect you might not have heard that from those other two guys…
When you hear talk about how you’ve transformed the club of Gary Megson and Sam Allardyce, do you cringe a bit for them? I think it does Sam and Gary a disservice. But that’s the nature of perception in football. Sometimes you’re given a name and, rightly or wrongly, it can stick. Sam and Gary are two very good managers and I’m not coming in here saying, “We play like Barcelona now.” We’ve just added other facets and dimensions to help us.
We’re quite adept at going to the strikers early. But we play through the midfield as well; it’s just about evolving. We’ve had Wilshere, got Holden – those are very good footballers. Now we’ve got Reo-Coker, who’s a very good passer of the ball, and we’ve got young Mark Davies as well, who is as an exciting midfield talent as you’ll find in the Premier League. We’re just trying to move the ball at the right time. But if we need to go to the strikers early, we can do that as well.
I don’t know if you’re familiar with the blog ‘Zonal Marking’ but they did some analysis of Bolton at the end of last season and found that certain key stats – pass completion rate, average number of short passes per game versus long balls – were pretty similar to Bolton under Megson. Yet… [Bristling slightly] Facts and statistics... we get our ProZone stuff every week and I can assure you we pass the ball a lot more. Zonal Whoever, good luck to them. Your facts and stats will tell you anything you want but nothing can beat the naked eye in football.
As a football club have we improved? Absolutely. People can talk about facts and stats but the entertainment, some of the goals we scored – it was there for everyone to see. The Mark Davies goal against Blackpool was an unbelievable footballing goal. I don’t know if Zonal Whatever saw that goal…
Top Holden sees his season end Left Mark Davies: highly rated and only 23
So the success you’ve had has been about finding the balance between physicality and entertainment? Football’s an entertainment sport. We’re all here to entertain, whether you’re at the top of the Premier League or down in the lower leagues. People work all week and pay good money to watch their team. The minimum they should expect is 100 per cent effort from their team and an obligation to entertain.
I go out home and away to win matches. I don’t set up my team to play for 0-0 draws because ultimately you’ll be undone anyway. We can go toe-to-toe with anyone. And the boys did that last season in magnificent fashion until, latterly, injuries caught up with us.
“Wilshere got stuck into Kevin Davies in training” Coyle on Bolton’s growing reputation as a finishing school for the Prem’s best young talent
“When you get a quality of player like Jack Wilshere it’s a joy to take them and drive them on,” says Coyle, who had the Arsenal and England midfielder on loan for the second half of the 2009-10 season. “If you love football, you’re aware of the supremely talented young players, wherever you are and wherever they are.
“Daniel Sturridge [who scored eight goals in 12 games on loan from Chelsea last season], say: for me as a striker he ticks every box, and I mean at the very highest level. All he had to do – and I’ve said this to him – is to work hard and do the dirty work to earn the right, because the talent takes over when he gets the ball in the final third.
“In Jack’s first training session, the skipper [Kevin Davies] bounced him about a couple of times and the kid got up. Next tackle, he got stuck into the skipper. And I saw Davies get up and laugh. This young kid, he’d come from Arsenal and there might have been a perception he’d be a Fancy Dan. But the kid got up and showed he was hard as nails.
“He loved it here and he still keeps in touch with the players. That, to me, says it all about Jack as a man. Arsenal have an absolute gem. Just look at how often the team give him the ball; in some games I would suggest they gave it to him more than they did to Cesc Fabregas, and that’s the ultimate compliment.”
82 October 2011 FourFourTwo.com