What are the realistic ambitions for those outside the top half of the Premiership? Gary Parkinson discusses Bolton's future following promotion
Given the financial constraints which led to previous manager Colin Todd resigning after being forced to sell one player too many, it’s still a source of amazement to many that Sam Allardyce managed to get Bolton promoted. Since he took over two years ago the fire sale has stopped but he has continued to barter, flogging £10 million worth of players (notably Eidur Gudjohnsen and Claus Jensen) while spending less than £4 million.
Under such circumstances, Bolton fans are thankful the club is afloat and little short of staggered to find ourselves taking Premier scalps – and, for two glorious months, looking down from the top of the table. Allardyce himself might be slightly amazed and amused at the way his £400,000 punt Michael Ricketts has blossomed into a player for whom the chairman has turned down £10 million bids, but while Sam was partly hired for his wheeler-dealing, he is officially no longer under pressure to sell. Though it’s not certain whether this would remain the case if the Nationwide beckoned, Ricketts himself is happy at the Reebok and has received England recognition without having to grace the reserve team of a “big club”.
However, Ricketts is merely the cutting edge of an inexpensively assembled squad of players from far and wide. Youri Djorkaeff, Fredi Bobic, Bruno N’Gotty and Rod Wallace cost not a penny, while Allardyce has looked over almost 100 trialists in the past 18 months. Japanese merchandising opportunity Akinora Nishizawa and Senegalese trouble-maker Djibril Diawara both had season-long loans cut short, but Sam’s scouts have scored far more hits than misses. And while Allardyce and his backroom staff of coaches, psychologists and sports scientists have brought the best out of unregarded journeymen like Mike Whitlow, Simon Charlton, Anthony Barness and Paul Warhurst (regularly fit at last, touch wood), the benefits of the youth academy are being seen in the form of Kevin Nolan.
There are others behind him in the pipeline, and they may get their chance sooner rather than later: it will be a while before we can offer £6 million for a Muzzy Izzet. We’re far more likely to scout the promising youngsters he may have kept out of the team and sign them on Bosmans. It may not interest those with back pages to fill, but it’s the only way forward for a club whose debt still hovers around the £30 million mark.
The present board, while viewed with the suspicion that comes naturally to all fans, appear to have a reasonably realistic grasp on finances. Allardyce was given a clear (if secret) budget in the close season, and while he was allowed to bend it slightly to secure Bobic and Djorkaeff, there will be no repeat of our last Premiership escapade, during which Todd squandered more than £10 million in transfer fees (and salaries untold). That time, relegation was just the beginning of the trouble. Should Bolton go down once more this May, we will be in far better shape, on and off the field, to regain our rightful place. Which is, perhaps, 17th.
From WSC 182 April 2002. What was happening this month