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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 OWEN COYLE

I fight for.” So I got showered, put a smile on my face, put on the team suit and supported the lads. Then I went to see Bruce about it after the final – I was quite opinionated in those days – and he left me out of the team for three or four weeks after that. I worked so hard I got back in and I actually scored the goal in the play-offs that took us into the Premier League. If I’d gone into a strop I’d have missed out on that unbelievable experience.

The moral is, no matter how bad it gets, you’ve got to be professional and focused. Take the medicine and go again. The mental strength I took from that experience was incredible.

Winning the 1995 Play-off

Final just weeks after his League Cup disappointment

That’s clearly a story you’ve told to players before. When do you start saying encouraging things like that to them after a defeat like the one at Wembley? In the dressing room? On the coach? Well, the dressing room was sombre: there was hardly a word spoken. It was a horrible long week. But the reaction for the Arsenal game next week was incredible. I don’t know if you remember but we were 1-0 and comfortable, we missed a penalty and two minutes later Arsenal scored. And at that point it would have been the easiest time ever to crumble. Far from it – we knuckled down and scored a late winner. That day told me everything about my group.

“To come into work knowing you’re going to do football, I don’t even think that’s a job”

Stuart Holden’s injury seemed to have a particularly shattering effect... Stuart was an integral part of everything we did, but he never played the previous week when we annihilated West Ham. That’s the thing about football. When something goes wrong it’s going to be down to something, be someone’s fault and there’s going to be blame apportioned. When I analyse the semi-final, we started really well and should have had a clear penalty. Then we lost bad goals and when that first goal, a bad goal, went in, all our positivity became a negative and that conspired against us.

But when we get back to that occasion – and I stress the word “when”, because we will get back there – we’ll be better set for it. It was disappointing, of course, but no different to when I’ve had a smack in football before and got up to deal with it. Take the bad moment, take the criticism and go and address it.

Below Suited at St Johnstone. “We won, but I didn’t feel comfortable”

It wasn’t your first disappointment at Wembley with Bolton. In 1995, you were left out of the League Cup final team by Bruce Rioch… I’d played in every round prior to the final and I fully expected to be involved. And at that time your squad list was only 14.

We’d just signed Gudni Bergsson, a big pal of mine now, and at Portsmouth the week before the final John McGinlay was on international duty and I started the game. At half-time Bruce came in and gave me a dressing down. Afterwards, Gudni said to me: “I don’t understand that – I thought you were our best player in the first half.” And I says, “Well, so did I, Gudni, but if he gives me a dressing down now he can put John McGinlay on from the start at Wembley and obviously I’m on the bench.”

Anyway, I went out second half and I couldn’t have played any better – set up the goal and we drew 1-1, a good result. But still at full-time again I was the man to get the tongue-lashing. On the Tuesday, Bruce named the first team for Wembley: John McGinlay was in it and I wasn’t. Then on the Friday, Bruce wasn’t at training – he’d gone to London –

and [assistant manager] Colin Todd said:

“He’s asked me to name the subs.” So Colin says, “Davidson, Patterson...”

and I’m waiting to hear “Owen Coyle” and he says “Gudni Bergsson”. I felt like getting dressed and going home.

But then I remembered: “Well, it’s not these players who pick the team. These are my team-mates, the guys

Going back to the “horrible long week”: you’re a natural enthusiast but did you find it difficult to come into work with a smile on your face? Is it an act sometimes? I don’t think it was difficult, and certainly not an act. I’m so fortunate to have a career in football, and if I hadn’t made it as a player and a manager I’d be paying my fiver to play five-a-side with you because I have an absolute love of the game. That’s never, ever left me. We now have tremendous lifestyles that go with it but look, I’ve had money and I’ve not had money and I’m the same. To come into work knowing you’re going to do football every day, I don’t even think that’s a job. Ultimately people say, “There’s pressure, there’s this and that”, but it’s the best occupation you can have in the world. And if you can’t come in with a smile knowing that, it’s a sad day.

Does it frustrate you when players don’t have the same enthusiasm? It does. I remember Ian McCall, my player/coach at Airdrieonians and Falkirk, saying, “The problem that you’re going to have, Coyley, is that when you become a manager you’ll see that not everyone is as passionate about the game as you.”

The playing days are the best days of your life but the next best thing is being a coach, a manager. I love being out on the grass with them, making them the best they can be and moulding them into a team that does justice to the fans who support our team. October 2011 83