New Bolton manager’s values have been compromised by saga as Burnley lose out.
Steve Bull signed for Wolverhampton Wanderers at the age of 21. He played 474 games for Wolves, scoring 250 goals. All of these appearances were outside of the top division, but he was still chosen for the England team, scoring on his debut against Scotland at Hampden Park.
He retired in 1999 after rejecting moves to Manchester United, Liverpool, Juventus, Barcelona, and others. When playing in a testimonial game against West Brom, he dropped to the ground when a chorus of “Stand up if you hate the Wolves” went up. He was loyal to Wolverhampton.
Owen Coyle’s Burnley side had become known for not only their success with limited resources, but also their togetherness. Indeed, the two were intertwined, each as important as the other.
When Coyle joined the club back in late 2007, he inherited a team that was firmly established in second tier of English football. Steve Cotterill had just left the Lancashire side after three seasons in which Burnley had achieved stability and consistency, if not radical on-pitch success. Coyle’s job was to pick up the baton from Cotterill and change Burnley from serial mid-table occupants to dark horses for promotion.
Coyle had begun to build a glowing reputation north of the border while in charge of St. Johnstone. Two fantastic cup runs and an unlikely victory over Rangers caught the attention of Bolton chairman Phil Gartside, who shortlisted him for the Trotters’ job.
Despite losing out to Gary Megson, Gartside recommended Coyle to the Burnley board, who took a gamble on the then 41-year-old.
Burnley fans were cautiously optimistic over his appointment. Fortunately, his first game in charge—a dreary 0-0 draw against Stoke City—was not a glimpse of things to come. In time, Coyle built a side that made up for what they lacked in talent with a combination of complete commitment and excellent team cohesion.
In his first full season at the Burnley, he guided the club to promotion from the Championship—an unbelievable feat considering the size of the budget he was given to work with. Added into the success of the 2008-09 season was a fabulous run in the League Cup, which included victories over Arsenal and Chelsea.
Little Burnley had risen up to get to the glitz of the Premier League ahead of other, more glamorous outfits such as Reading, Sheffield United and Ipswich Town. And through it all, Coyle alluded to the ‘togetherness’ of the team.
Coyle even rejected the advances of his boyhood team Celtic. Such flirtation must have been a huge lure for Coyle, but he stayed loyal to the cause at Burnley.
He had a job to do.
Halfway into the season, and that job was only half done. Sitting in 14th position in the Premier League and with an exceptional home record, Burnley were well placed to avoid the drop and attempt to cement their place as a regular top division regular fixture, just like Wigan, Stoke, and Bolton.
As a player, Coyle enjoyed 54 games at Bolton scoring 12 goals, before he was shipped to Dundee United for £400,000. Hardly the statistics that legends are made of but, as fans of the Trotters have made clear during the last few days, he was a ‘legend’ across the county.
According to Burnley chairman Barry Kilby, Coyle had intimated to him that he would only leave Burnley for Celtic or Bolton. Despite the possibly hyperbole (“Sorry Mr. Perez, I can’t come manage your galacticos, I’ve got Hull away on Saturday”), Coyle obviously has strong ties to Burnley’s bitter divisional rivals.
But for a man who seemed wise, loyal and astute to onlookers, Coyle’s eagerness to jump ship halfway through the season is mind-boggling. His own reputation and image may well suffer as a result.
In rejecting the lure of his boyhood heroes—and with it a huge pay rise, Champions League football and playing to bumper crowds—Coyle’s moral compass had pointed towards Burnley. He could not leave the club at such an important time, their premier trip to the top division. He had a job to do.
Arguably, his decision to leave for Bolton this week has even worse timing. With Burnley in a relegation scrap, the need for loyalty and commitment is greater than ever. A change of manager is a hugely destabilising act which could easily cause turbulence at Turf Moor. It suddenly looks like Coyle isn’t as loyal as he seemed back in the summer.
Burnley director Brendan Flood lamented: “We tried charm, persuasion, every possibility – even testing his loyalty as much as we could.”
Some might argue that there is no loyalty in sport. The story of Steve Bull disagrees.