Why has there been such an angry backlash from Wigan Athletic supporters on Owen Coyle’s appointment?
Well, it seemed to take an eternity for Roberto Martinez to finally go and the recruitment process to begin. Things seemed to be perking up when we heard about a quality field of applicants for the position. Our hopes were building up. But there was a warning sign when Dave Whelan said that he was focusing on managers currently out of work. That cut out some more exciting possibilities and narrowed down the field.
Then the announcement came through that the ex-Bolton man had been appointed. That was when so many supporters hit the roof. Why such a reaction?
Do people simply not believe that he is the man to get Wigan Athletic back into the Premier League? Or is the impression that Whelan was trying to do things on the cheap? Or is it that Coyle worked up the road in Horwich for three years until he left Wanderers last October?
I had been pondering over this for days now. My initial gut reaction to Coyle’s appointment was not positive, but when I saw what was being said on the social and electronic media it was quite shocking. Logic told me that Coyle had done a wonderful job in bringing a Burnley squad up from the Championship on a low budget. Moreover they were a joy to watch and would have surely stayed in the Premier League had Coyle not jumped ship half way through the season. Surely he can do it again at Wigan.
“I have tried to stay away from managers who are in work at the moment because there is a fee involved with those.”
That quote from Whelan prior to Coyle’s appointment did nothing to relieve the anxiety of Latics fans who had been swept into a whirlpool of emotion over these past weeks. The ecstasy of winning the FA Cup was combined with that sinking feeling of dropping down a division, with so many players out of contract. The ‘will he-won’t he’ of Martinez’s move to Everton dragging on followed by the harsh realization of his departure.
The media have provided enough ammunition for fans to believe that Whelan really was doing things on the cheap. Reports say that Coyle has been appointed on a one year rolling contract, with a bonus if the club gets promotion. The cynics are saying that Whelan did not want to pay the kind of salary Steve McClaren would demand. It fits in with his penny pinching over compensation payments for managers already under contract.
There was frustration building up among supporters for all these reasons.
Yesterday my wife and I were discussing the traditional rivalry between Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers. She reminded me of a trip we took to the Malaysian island of Langkawi last year. We had just checked into our hotel in that tropical paradise, taking a walk through the neighbourhood. We had only been walking for a couple of minutes when I saw it. A bar with ‘Bolton Wanderers’ plastered all over it – a truly incongruous sight in south east Asia. My wife reminded me that I refused to go there for a drink, even if though it was so conveniently close to the hotel. What was my problem with Bolton Wanderers?
So was it that Coyle was at Bolton that rankled with myself and fellow Latics supporters? Wigan and Bolton are neighbouring Lancashire towns with a similar way of life. Growing up in Wigan I was never aware of any enmity between the two towns or their populations. Mind you in those days Latics were a non-league team while Bolton in the higher divisions of the Football League.
I first went to watch a Bolton game in 1976, albeit inadvertently. My father and I had taken a football bus to watch Latics play in the Manchester area, against Altrrincham I think. As we were nearing the ground we were told that match had been postponed. The driver asked the people on the coach if they would prefer to go back to Wigan or to go to watch a match somewhere else. We ended up watching a Second Division match between Bolton and Charlton.
It was pretty grim in the rain at the aged Burnden Park. Ian Greaves’ Bolton side had a couple of rugged central defenders in Paul Jones and Sam Allardyce, with a skilful young midfield player in Peter Reid. It was not only the weather that was grim – the football was too – the long ball being the order of the day. It was typical that the game be settled by a header from Jones, after he and his corpulent central defensive partner had gone up for a set piece.
How ironic that Allardyce should go back to Bolton as manager, 23 years later, and promulgate that same style of football, if not worse . A “Bolton goal” was to become a common expression for football commentators and journalists. To be fair, Allardyce was shrewd in bringing in quality players who were a little bit past their best, but were very influential. He was to lead his club to eight years of unprecedented success with his ugly football.
Under Roberto Martinez, Wigan Athletic reached the heights and plummeted to the depths. However, his legacy will remain one of good football. That is not something that can be said about Bolton.
Owen Coyle tried to improve their style, but his hands were tied with the players he had inherited. Like Martinez in his last season at Wigan, Coyle had some terrible luck at Bolton. Injuries to key players at crucial times, plus that terrible situation with Fabrice Muamba. There is a fine line between success and failure that often depends on getting the rub of the green and keeping key players fit.
Owen Coyle is a charismatic, intelligent manager who believes in attacking football. He can do a great job at Wigan Athletic. He is much more suited to taking over at Wigan with the Martinez legacy, than he was at Bolton trying to change the style at a club that had been playing ugly for so long.
At Wigan we have grown accustomed to good football, even if the results have not always reflected the quality of the football. I suppose my frustration with Bolton over these years has not been the club itself, but the manner in which its teams have performed. My mistake was to mentally label Coyle with Bolton. For him it was guilt by association, rather than by action.
Once the emotions die down Wigan Athletic fans might well get to appreciate Owen Coyle. He could be an inspired appointment.