When I used to think of Bolton, I thought of long balls, El Hadji Diouf, Phil Gartside and getting the shit kicked out of you for 90 minutes. But thankfully, these are all a distant memory – except Phil Gartside – unfortunately. The Wanderers have made massive strides over the last 10 years or so, from becoming a second division side to a top half Premier League team, competing for Europe. A lot of credit must go to Sam Allardyce for transforming Bolton, it might not have been easy on the eye at times but you cannot argue with the results achieved by the brash former manager.
After Allardyce left Bolton in 2007, the club lost it’s way on the pitch. Sammy Lee tried to steady the ship, but quickly found out he is a much better assistant than the boss himself. Gary Megson was next up, to try his hand at emulating Allardyce’s achievements. The thousands of empty seats at The Reebok showed what the Bolton fans thought of Megson and his methods. Gartside soon realizing his mistake in Megson, moved swiftly to poach appoint Owen Coyle from neighbours Burnley.
It’s been over 12 months since Owen Coyle and his shorts joined the Bolton dugout, taking them from brink of relegation to fighting for 6th place and an FA Cup Semi Final. Results aside, he has turned unfashionable, long ball, stick it up ‘em Bolton into an attractive, football playing side. With relatively the same side that Megson had almost ruined previously.
Coyle’s man management skills are top-notch too; he has instilled a new belief into this Bolton side. Despite losing the lead twice against Birmingham at the weekend, Bolton dug deep and found a last-minute winner to book their FA Cup semi-final date. Coyle said after the game “I know what I have in my group. I know the quality of player but equally I know the attitude they have. I said to the players, ‘don’t let the opportunity pass you by’ and they responded excellently.”
Coyle has also shown an eye for the transfer market too, his first signing was Stuart Holden from the MLS. Holden has been one of the players of the season so far, his energy and willingness to go box to box has made Boltons midfield look very classy. Personally, he is my favourite player outside of Anfield. Coyle has also able to convince young players like Jack Wilshere (last season) and more recently Daniel Sturridge to join on loan, with Chelsea’s Sturridge currently proving more potent than Fernando Torres.
Megson must take some credit, as he signed the highly regarded Gary Cahill at centre back, who looks every part an England player for years to come. But given Bolton’s current financial situation, it looks likely that Cahill will leave in the summer, if a big offer comes in. Bolton fans shouldn’t worry too much; Coyle recently signed David Wheater for peanuts, who looks like an able replacement should Cahill see his future elsewhere.
It wasn’t that long ago Bolton were voted the 7th most hated club in football, but people’s opinions are changing, as Coyle works his magic on this Bolton side. It would be very fitting that in year that Bolton legend Nat Lofthouse passed away, Bolton should go on to lift the FA Cup. If they beat Stoke on April 16th, then you can be sure that Coyle will have them ready for their first FA Cup final since 1958.