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Burnley’s promotion into the Premier League – their first season in the top division of English football since 1976 – was supposed to be one for the romantics. They were automatically installed as the favourites for relegation, as if people are incapable of even hoping to dream that anything other than exactly what we expect could happen. Then, however, something happened. Burnley, playing attacking, attractive football and wearing a sumptuous kit based on their 1960 First Division championship winning team, started to win matches – and not just any matches. They beat Manchester United and Everton at Turf Moor and, while they have endured some torrid awaydays (most notably at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool), they have held their own.
Owen Coyle has been receiving plaudits all season. He has refused to break the bank at Burnley, kept his faith in many of the journeymen that got the club into the Premier League and kept his team playing football when the obvious thing to do would have been to forget about the football and start scrapping and fighting to keep that place at the top table. Then, though, he went and blew it. Bolton Wanderers’ Phil Gartside (from whom we should never reasonably expect to hear anything about poaching from other clubs again) batted his eyelashes, and Coyle swallowed it. The promise of a bigger budget, a more modern facility and returning to a club that he played for proved too much to resist. Bolton got their man.
What, then, have we learnt about Owen Coyle? Well, we have learnt that his weasel words count for very little. As recently as the end of last year, he said at a pre-match conference that, “I enjoy being at the football club, I enjoy my work and coming through the door every morning”. Not much more than a week later, he has gone. Will Bolton be able to trust him should a further job offer come up in a few months, or in a year or so? There is very little in his behaviour over the last couple of weeks or so to suggest that they should. Talk of loyalty is cheap and Coyle has offered enough of that to Burnley supporters over the last few weeks or months. It’s worth little to them now.
It is well worth asking the question of how this has come about. Some are pointing the finger in the direction of Daily Mirror writer Alan Nixon, who, in the recently released book “Big Club, Small Town And Me”, was said to have recommended Coyle for the Burnley job and has had an uncanny knack of providing his employers with Burnley exclusives this season. The biggest exclusive of the lot came when the back page of his newspaper screamed that Coyle had already accepted the job well before any public statement had been made. Why, though, could he not even wait for the summer? Why couldn’t he sign a pre-nup with Bolton to go to The Reebok Stadium during the summer? Why is it Burnley that have to start their next match, in the middle of the season, with an untried caretaker-manager rather than Bolton? The correct answer to this may be “because life’s not fair”, but being correct and being right aren’t always the same thing.
One aspect of this story that has been striking, though – and it has been striking to the point of being startling – has been the degree of magnanimity displayed by so many people at Burnley Football Club over the move. Their seems to have been an air of resignation about the whole sorry incident, especially considering the fact that Bolton count amongst their local rivals. The silver lining for them is that they are likely to receive a significant compensation package as a result of his desertion, but even the specifics of this are unlikely to be made public in the near future – and figures thrown around in the press will be conjecture, to say the least. They won’t know the true cost of this defection until after the last match of the season.
The move is also, of course, a big gamble for Coyle himself. At Burnley, the world was his oyster. Hopes and expectations at Turf Moor still don’t amount to a great deal more than staying in the Premier League after the end of this season, but it seems unlikely that he would have become much of a pariah had they not managed to avoid the icy chill of relegation. At Bolton, however, the stakes are much higher. There is considerable talk that relegation would be a financial calamity for a club that may have been sheltered from the realities of balancing the books by Premier League television and prize money. Coyle may consider himself to be a “Bolton legend”, but that seems to be a little overstated and it seems unlikely that, should Bolton fall through the trapdoor, he will be given the same amount of leeway at The Reebok Stadium.
The sadness of the story of this managerial poaching, however, is in the death of another small chink of the romance of the game. The accession of Burnley into the Premier League was one for the romantics. The small-town club that arguably punched above its weight and became one of the great names in English football had been in the doldrums for years. Their promotion was unexpected as it was refreshing. We all know that players, managers, everybody associated with the game is involved in it for altogether more prosaic reasons than romance. We like – some might even say that we need – to maintain the illusion that there is more to it than this, though, and when one aspect of one fairy tale falls apart, yet another small piece of our love affair with the game dies a little on the inside. The bigger question now is whether Burnley can complete their mission and stay in the Premier League at the end of this season. It’s less likely than it was a week ago but Burnley at least still can stay up this season, and those of us that love a happy ending will be hoping that our disbelief can continue to be suspended for a few more months yet.
Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
Fantastic article – couldn’t agree more
Lets hope Messers Coyle, Nixon and Gartside read this article
and take stock of the damage they have done not just to their own integrity and credibility but football itself.
They should hang their head in shame as they are all tarred with the same brush
Perfect article sums up all my emotions. I wonder what Nixon gained from all this? Just hope he’s squeeky clean 😉 Now the boys need to show some grit and prove the naysayers all wrong, if the beautiful game is to have any romance left at all. What is it? 18 games to go – 22 points should do it. 3 at the Reebok against that shower would be a good start.
The Owen Coyle situation resonates so much with us chaps in Swansea, as Roberto Martinez did exactly the same, including the public pronouncements on the importance of loyalty among players, only to scarper the moment his old club came a-calling. Left a very bitter taste down here. Course, the irony is that one of the chaps mooted as Coyle’s successor is the one that’s actually improved on Martinez’s work, Paulo Sousa.
Its a discrace he has used his silver tongue to pull the wool over our eyes.
At least Burnley got their dream – and at least Swansea got a half-decent replacement (though I see from the gossip pages that Burnley are targetting Sousa as Coyle’s replacement). When Ian Holloway left Argyle for Milan Mandaric’s millions, with the Greens challenging for the unlikeliest of promotions, it was quickly followed by an exodus of half a dozen of our best players and a future of desperate football and relegation struggles, which we look far from certain to overcome this season.
My point is, that anyone expecting romance from this game needs to get in touch with a lanky bloke with a blue box and head for 1976, without stopping to take in the view on the way.
Romance in professional football? Ha!
Owen Coyle was doing his job. A job he considered to be a better offer came up. He took it. And if he was underperforming and a better option became available, Burnley would have had little hesitation in getting rid of him.
We are getting over Coyle’s infidelity now, and looking forward to the next few games. Bolton away, coming up soon, will still be particularly interesting, however. Great article, but for one thing : why the supposed increased likelihood of relegation ? We have proven that we have a team of fighters here, of no little ability, and in spite of four 1-1 draws at home recently, we deserved better against Villa ; were robbed of a win over Arsenal by a wrongly disallowed goal, and absolutely battered Bolton who were very fortunate indeed not to have lost by 3 or 4. Even their goal came from a free-kick which clearly should have been awarded the other way. All in all, we have stayed afloat so far in the Prem despite deserving more points than we have, and if luck itself is to balance out over the whole season then we are certainly due more in the second half of it, whoever the new manager might be. We will NOT go down !!
“Owen Coyle was doing his job. A job he considered to be a better offer came up. He took it. And if he was underperforming and a better option became available, Burnley would have had little hesitation in getting rid of him.”
Not true – OC would have been given every chance at Burnley to build on his undoubted successes over the last 2 years. It has been said that avoiding relegation for Burnley would be a bigger achievement than getting there and Burnley’s current paymasters (Messrs Kilby & Flood) would have accepted relegation and a new builidng platform as would the fans. Had he stayed and built on what he started (even if 2 steps back to leap forward again) he would have been a true legend at Turf Moor
An excellent article, well written and pretty accurate from what I know.
Just give us the £3.5 Gartside….you can then have him and we can all move on.
….and for Tim Vickerman..you need to get informed.
Coyle preached loyalty, integrity, commitment, honesty and then walked out showing none of this.
Secondly..he was underperforming – not one away win in ten matches, and no wins anywhere in our last nine matches.
..leaking goals home and away.
..but his job was not under threat because we trusted him.
A little harsh I think. I agree that Coyle is probably a bit short-sited to take this and I’d be a little miffed if I were a Burnley fan : are Bolton really a bigger club than Burnley? He’s certainly setting himself up for a fall whereas if he kept Burnley up there would have been every chance that with increased revenue he could have built the club up.
But maybe Coyle has happy memories from his time at Bolton. Perhaps he’s become frustrated at Burnley and maybe felt that the success which he has brought them has not been reflected by access to a decent budget?
Ulitmately, Coyle played for eleven clubs (if we count both incarnations of Airdrie) as a player, played international football for a country he wasn’t born in and is already onto his third club as a manager in under five years, without being sacked. He’s never shown any inclination to stay at clubs for the long haul in the past, so I’m not sure why he should start now.
Tim- The important word here is “if”. Coyle ditches BFC at an important time. Coyle HAS been underperforming in relation to other Premier League managers, regardless of club size, and no suggestion of getting rid has ever been made by Burnley. Your comment is hypothetical whilst Coyle’s actions are fact.
If Burnley had of sacked Owen they would have had to pay his contract up, that appears to be a problem for big money Bolton with there huge cash reserves!
Thanks Owen for all you have done for Burnley, I hope the good lord looks down and rewards you in the appropiate way and you fall flat on your face at Bolton.
How are these weasel words – “I enjoy being at the football club, I enjoy my work and coming through the door every morning”?
Doesn’t sound he was lying to me and he doesn’t mention anything along the lines of “I will stay here forever” either.
The sooner fans realise that the days of loyalty to a club from a player or manager is dead the better. It doesn’t exist anymore, and why should it?
These are jobs for them, it is a way to buy a car, fund their mortgage, have a better lifestyle.
If a competitor for the company I work for offered to pay me considerably more I would probably take it. I have no loyalty to the one I work for now if I can better myself at another – why should players be different? And in my case for fans read shareholders.
In the older days it was different, players tended to be more local, pay discrepancies were not so great, facilities were similar, etc.
I gave up on player loyalty years back, going to the point of telling my offspring not to put a player’s name on the back of their replica shirts.
I suggest you enjoy and remember the good times he brought to the club and let him go….feel free to wish failure upon him at his new club but don’t accuse him of disloyalty.
“If a competitor for the company I work for offered to pay me considerably more I would probably take it. I have no loyalty to the one I work for now if I can better myself at another – why should players be different?”
I agree. How many of us would up sticks from our current job for a big payrise, new experiences and perhaps a longer contract? Most of us, I expect.
As sad as it is from Burnley’s perspective, that’s business, and that’s reality. I don’t think we can reasonably expect players and managers to operate on some sort of higher moral plain to the rest of us.
Hmm i’m surprised you think there is still any romance in such a league as the Premiership, indeed the mercenary nature of football clubs seems to be permeating even further down the leagues with the farcical sackings of Irvine and Ferguson in the Championship. I think Coyle has earned some credit at Burnley, he did after all mould the team which took them up into the “promised land” and has also given them a chance of staying up.
No, we can’t. However, it would be as well if they didn’t talk about loyalty themselves before demonstrating that they don’t believe what they’ve just been saying when it comes to Number One.
(Sorry, that would have made more sense if Ben’s posting hadn’t got between mine and the one on which I was commenting!)
ejh – The quote from Coyle was “I enjoy being at the football club, I enjoy my work and coming through the door every morning”. I think that is in fact pretty carefully worded – there’s no mention of loyalty or staying with the club. I sure he did enjoy his work at Burnley. He just got, in his eyes, a better offer.
And as sacking after sacking has shown, why should managers be loyal? If they do talk about loyalty and sticking with a club, they are just playing the media game, and would be stupid not to.
Who in their right mind would say at a press conference, “Well, managing this club is fine, but I can’t see myself here forever, particularly if another club with better facilities and a bigger transfer budget, who I have a sentimental attachment to, offer me a massive sum of money to join them”?
Well, you’ve been telling us to be realistic, so why can’t they? Otherwise, it’s just a double standard – people who can get on don’t have to tell the truth, other people just have to stick it. Thrasymachus might have agreed with you, but what’s anybody else’s motive in accepting such an obvious screw-you?
One of the issues that Burnley will face now is that whoever succeeds Coyle will no doubt have his own ideas about how he wants his team to play, and will want to add to the squad. That means that every time you hire a manager, back his judgement, then see him bugger off when he’s got a little bit of success, you’re left with his players’ wages for the next couple of years, plus the wages of those that his successor brings in. I don’t want to deviate from the point, but just to use Swansea as an example, there’s a first team squad there of 40 players as a result of backing Martinez then Sousa. If Sousa was to leave, that would grow again, and the wages would mean that success was not just desireable, but essential; and failure would be calamitous and long-term.
That’s why Burnley fans have a right to feel aggrieved that the man they trusted the club’s future with and backed accordingly can just leave when another job comes along. The argument that if a better job came along we’d all take it does not apply in quite the same way in football – possibly because the manager’s position holds far too much power in the hands of one man. Dare I say it, the idea of a director of football is a good one, it’s just that it hasn’t been applied properly in the UK. Slightly different argument, but you know what I mean.
‘Not true – OC would have been given every chance at Burnley to build on his undoubted successes over the last 2 years.’
Yes, the key word is ‘if’. I’m not talking about the Premier League. IF they lost the Play-Off final last season and were in the relegation zone in the Championship, I’m sure they would have given him the boot. He got out while the going was good. There is very little loyalty in professional football. Fans don’t make their living from the game, players, coaches and managers do.
I cannot understand how posters on here can say Coyle has been underperforming…weren’t Burnley pre-season favourites for the drop with pretty much everyone? 20 games played, 14th in the table, no crazy transfer fees spent – I think that’s a great achievement so far, no?
For the record, as a Huddersfield fan, I’m pleased to see Burnley’s success as it’s something we can aspire to and the departure of Coyle to a team of only slightly greater potential is a little puzzling. He also said some rather daft things about expecting loyalty from his players, especially in the context of his move. But I can understand it.
Everything in the article is of course true but there is a certain self-righteousness to such articles that is perhaps unnecessary (we’ve been guilty of similar when writing about the FA Cup this season!). I don’t recall the hand-wringing angst after Coyle defected from St Johnstone to a ‘bigger club’. Burnley will almost certainly find themselves stealing some lower league club so I look forward to the ourtaged articles when they do. There wasn’t much fuss outside of Colchester when Paul Lambert fled North to Norwich who, as well as being well below Colchester at the time, incidentally, still haven’t coughed up compensation. Moving up a theoretical ladder is part of every industry, the thing that has pricked interest in this scenario is that no one likes Bolton, they are perceived as not really much bigger than Burnley and it’s a kick in the romantic bollocks for pundits and fans alike. Aside from that, it’s not really unremarkable.
re Gervillian Swike’s comment. Every time a club hires a manager they back his judgement. It is irrelevant whether he leaves for a bigger club or gets sacked, you are still left with the wages of the players that manager signed.
At the end of the day we are losing our manager, assistant manager, coach, goalkeeping coach, head scout, tea boy et al. The club is bigger than any of these and we aren’t losing the most important part – the supporters. What I would say is, the ones who want to leave stand on the left and the ones who want to leave stand strong and let us see who we can count on to bring us through this.
If the rumour turns out to be true I can only assume that 200% will be running a similar story on how Sean O’Driscoll has let down Doncaster by joining Burnley etc etc.
[…] ‘tache to wave his wad and Jag E-Type at her skirts. My favourite was in the excellent Two Hundred Percent blog, saying The sadness of the story of this managerial poaching, however, is in the death of another […]