A Chelsea striker, controversially poached from a north-west rival made the headlines again at the weekend – this time though, it was 21-year-old sharp shooter Daniel Sturridge, rather than the misfiring Fernando Torres. Sturridge is currently on loan at Bolton, one of this season’s most surprising teams, and scored his third goal in three appearances for the Trotters in a 2 – 0 win against an abject Everton on Sunday.
Having largely warmed the bench at Stamford Bridge since an acrimonious move from Manchester City in 2009, he is showing a potential allowed only rarely to shine at his parent club. He left City at the end of his contract, as new owners brought a glut of players to Eastlands, and had his fee set at up to £6.5 million by a tribunal. If his streak continues, that will look a snäppchen – especially when compared to Torres’ £50 million acquisition.
If Sturridge is currently catching the eye though it is as part of Owen Coyle’s wholly impressive Bolton team. For his part Coyle is overjoyed to have found the steely cutting edge his team desperately needed in the form of the eager young striker: „That’s why we brought him to the football club“, says Coyle. „We believe he has the potential to improve. I’ve said before, I’ll give him a platform and hopefully, having been a striker I can help him with some of my experience […] He’s certainly enjoying it and long may that continue.“
Andy Cole feels a lot younger than his age.
Coyle is modest about the influence he could have on Sturridge. If it is one skill that the impressive Scot has shown in his short managerial career, it is how to coax the best from players – either extracting a youthful fizz from vintage performers or confident showings from precocious youngsters. In Coyle’s three-year stint at Burnley from 2007 to 2010, during which he took the side to a League Cup semi-final and promotion to the Premier League, he greatly impressed Andrew Cole, who spent three months on loan with the club: „I went to Burnley and spoke to Owen and got a great vibe“, says Cole. „He brought the best out of me and made me feel a lot younger than my age.“
At the Reebok, Coyle’s success has been built on selling a new way of doing things to a squad inculcated in the Bolton philosophy of the last decade. That template, laid down during Sam Allardyce’s successful reign from 1999 to 2007, was hugely pragmatic: Be tough to beat, physically imposing and take advantage of set pieces to score. Though Sammy Lee and Gary Megson who followed Allardyce had a tricky time tinkering with that format, Coyle has ridden out the transition and brought far more entertaining fare to a stadium that was once widely perceived as a temple to anti-football.
Even Bolton stalwarts such as Kevin Davies have bought into Coyle’s vision. „He is such a positive person, so competitive, a real winner“, says Davies. „He wants to win at table tennis, head tennis, all the little competitions we have during the week. That rubs off on players. He wants us to be winners.“ Though the thought of the pointy elbowed Davies, a master of the dark arts on the pitch, playing table tennis is a somewhat surreal, his description of Coyle sounds authentic. This is a manager who through rain and snow, sits on the bench in a pair of shorts, seemingly ready to throw himself on to the pitch to fight for the cause with his players. His knees are inspirational.
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Along with Sturridge, burgeoning players like Gary Cahill (admittedly an astute Gary Megson signing) and Stuart Holden have improved rapidly under Coyle. Cahill has won two caps for England this season, and Holden has been nurtured back from a Nigel De Jong leg break to become a midfield dynamo, who prompts Bolton’s best moves and who has made more tackles this season than any other player in the league. Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Bolton also blossomed during his 14-game stint and got to grips with the physical realities of playing every weekend in the Premier League. He has been a shoo-in for Arsenal this season and made his first start for England last week.
Nine players’ contracts expire in the summer
Coyle’s ability to extract the best from young loan signings is currently a boon for Bolton, but may in future prove a necessity. The club are in severe financial difficulty and as they push for a Europa League spot (they currently lie eighth, one point behind Sunderland in seventh), will be reflecting on the shape of the squad they require next season. Last year, the club made losses of £35.4 million, with their debt rising to an alarming £93 million. Nine players’ contracts expire in the summer (including some big earners such as Johan Elmander) and chairman Phil Gartside must be sweating: Should he offer them expensive new contracts or potentially fight on both home and European fronts next season with a greatly diminished squad? It is an unappealing decision to have to make and Bolton fans must be concerned that such dark storm clouds lurk on the horizon after a richly entertaining season thus far.
They can though rest assured that as Coyle’s reputation as a diamond-polisher grows, the elite’s managers will continue to be happy to send players to the Reebok. It might prove slim consolation if the club falls apart around him – or if one of the more spectacular rumours of recent years comes to pass: following Wilshere’s successful stint at Bolton, the British press speculated that Owen Coyle could be the man to fill Arsene Wenger’s shoes when the ‘Professor’ finally retires. That is certainly an interesting thought experiment but one that falls at the first hurdle: For that Coyle might have to don a pair of trousers. And right now, his knees are just too damn powerful.
An dieser Stelle erklärt Titus Chalk die englische Fußball-Kultur auf Deutsch
Folge 26: Mrs Heskey
Ohne zweifeln, ist Emile Heskey Englands tödlichste Tormaschine. Seine zukünftige Frau Chantelle Tagoe aber, hat genau angst, dass der Tod sie kriegt. Wegen der Prophezeiung der Maya, die sagt, dass 2012 das Jahr der Apokalypse sein wird, hat sie ihre Heirat an der arme Emile verschoben. Nach jeden ausblasenden Arbeitstag, schafft Chantelle es noch der Weltuntergang zu recherchieren. „Wir hatten unsere Hochziet im Tagesbuch für 2012 geschrieben“, sagt sie. „Aber die Theorie über der Weltuntergang hat mir richtig beirrt davon! Ich bin wirklich peinlich. Ich glaube an alle diese Sache und ich bleibe zu Hause auf dem Internet, um zu erfahren was passieren könnte und wo am besten alles zu überleben.“ Sehr sinnvoll Chantelle – wo steht es eigentlich, dass die WAGs blöd sind?
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