7 January ~ "As soon as a player mentions money my interest in them has gone. What kind of man would I be if I sold this club to a young player when signing him, offering him the chance to progress into a Premier League-quality footballer, if I jumped ship as soon as a better offer came along?" Owen Coyle must presumably feel a tad embarrassed about those words he uttered in 2009 after he has now "jumped ship" to Bolton Wanderers. The question must be asked what kind of man is he and the resounding answer must be that he isn't the man Burnley fans thought he was.
When Coyle was appointed in 2007, the club's chief operations director said that there was "a touch of Bill Shankly about him". While that sounded fanciful the team did undergo an immediate transformation with a flowing style of play, fantastic results, exciting cup runs and, finally, promotion to the Premier League. Of course we didn't expect him to build us up to the size of a Liverpool, but it seemed that we had a manager with a long-term plan and the ability to create a legacy. At the AGMs he seemed to be excited about the potential of the 16- and 17-year-olds he signed from Scotland and Ireland and enthused about Turf Moor's new stands. And then he went and ruined it all by leaving. Instead of a Bill Shankly it appears that we'd had another Mark McGhee.
Bolton fans have talked of Coyle's affinity for the club. A quick scan of his record reveals that to be bunkum. Coyle spent just over two years there – he has been at Burnley for longer. Bolton's website had a list of "50 Legends" and his name is conspicuous by its absence. The records show that he scored 12 League goals for them. By their own definition, Johan Elmander is five goals away from becoming a Bolton legend.
So why did he do it? Bolton are an established Premier League club but at the time of writing they are below Burnley (with games in hand admittedly, although one of those is Arsenal away). They have a bigger ground but their average attendance is only 500 higher for the season and plans are in place to build two new stands at Turf Moor. Coyle has often preached about his style, how he likes football played to feet and in an attacking manner, but Sammy Lee found to his cost the perils of trying to change an entrenched method of play at Bolton.
Bolton have a bigger budget than Burnley, however, and are prepared to spend more on wages. Burnley's ceiling is £15,000 per week and one must assume that Bolton's £12 million signing Elmander is on more than that. And so we go back to the initial quote from Coyle. He railed against paying high wages to players and said that they should be delighted to have the best job in the world. On December 31, five days before he told Burnley he wanted to go, he lambasted Portsmouth on Sky for having players they couldn't afford. Now he has gone to Bolton with a purported £50m plus debt.
The other character in all of this is Alan Nixon, a journalist who often writes for the Mirror and People. When Coyle first appeared fans quickly noted that all of our transfer exclusives were being broken by Nixon who had no previous links to the club. This was quickly followed by Nixon becoming a regular contributor to the Burnley matchday programme. In his recent book, Big Club, Small Town and Me, club director Brendan Flood says that it was Nixon who first suggested Coyle for the Burnley job with an unsolicited email.
On December 30, Coyle released a statement saying the Bolton job was a fantastic one for somebody but he had work to do at Burnley. Contrary stories appeared in the press the following day saying Coyle was interested in the vacancy at Bolton. These fears were compounded when Coyle skipped the post-match press conference against MK Dons on January 2 saying that he had to catch an urgent flight to Scotland for a family reunion. It seemed a weak excuse and all the more strange when a Mail on Sunday journalist confirmed that Coyle was seen in the tunnel talking to Paul Ince long after the press conference had finished.
At the press conference Coyle's number two Sandy Stewart appeared to say that there had been no contact with Bolton and that they enjoyed their work at Burnley. The die was cast, however, when an article appeared in the Sunday press, again from Alan Nixon, confirming that Coyle wanted the job and that he was close to taking it. From then on it seemed a procession.
Alan Nixon's articles continued until it was formally announced that Coyle had been allowed to talk to Bolton on January 4. A further statement from Burnley was released later that day saying Coyle had held further talks and that a 24 hour cooling-off period had been agreed. A mockery was made off this the very next day when Nixon trumpeted his exclusive in the Mirror that Coyle had decided to leave Burnley.
Prior to his exit Burnley had employed three managers in the last 12 years and the chairman Barry Kilby does not have a record of sacking employees. We are one of the most stable clubs in the League and a job at Burnley is about as secure as you can get. Coyle had three years left after this season on a purported £1 million a year. It was doubtful whether Burnley could afford to sack him even if they wanted to.
Given the success he'd achieved it was apparent Coyle would not be short of offers in the near future and at Burnley there was no expectation of staying up. He was receiving plaudits from all for our style of play and his principles regarding our wage bill. Bolton will now expect to stay up and there is every chance he will be fired if they fail.
Coyle was as popular a man in Burnley as I have known and he achieved a great deal with us that the fans should be grateful for. He could have left the club in any manner he chose and sadly this is the way he opted for. And that, more than anything else, answers the question he asked of himself about what kind of man he is. Kevin Clarke