How do you do it, Owen? It's the burning question

Burnley's manager is revered for his giant-killing and commitment to principles
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The Independent Online

They are here, all of them, to see him. Every camera, every microphone, every notebook, every face. All of them, here for him. Owen Coyle, 42, from Glasgow. They are here to ask him about this season, about taking Burnley to the verge of the Premier League, about this tale of improbable glory. How did you do it, Owen? So he walks from question to question, revealing a little of himself and filling the room with his presence. Suddenly, he is everywhere.

Owen Coyle, a lean, greying, lithe figure, is everywhere. On a damp day, in this sombre, wistful town, Burnley flags fill bedroom windows in almost every home, they flutter on the roof of almost every car and Coyle face masks can be bought from the club shop. Having guided Burnley to tomorrow's Championship play-off final at Wembley against Sheffield United, he has made an indelible impression and a kind of reverence, for the club, for the team, for hope, has taken hold. "It's Burnley," says the Turf Moor receptionist drolly, "what else is there?"

He understands, this man from the uncompromising Gorbals area, one of nine children who grew up dedicated to making the best of himself. Coyle once promised his mother that he would never drink and he remains teetotal. He wrenched a solid, understated career into being: 12 clubs, 249 goals, one Republic of Ireland cap, through his grandfather's nationality. He grafted and he learned, taking his B coaching licence at 25, so that when the chance came, he would be ready.

"I was part-time originally, so I know about getting up at seven o'clock for a real job," he says. "I was an assistant buyer for a construction firm, a wheeler dealer. I always felt that when you walked through the doors of your workplace, you'd know if it was a good atmosphere, conducive to real work. I felt it here at Burnley, it slotted in with my personality."

How did you do it, Owen? He arrived in December 2007, from Scottish First Division side St Johnstone, and recast the team, using the £3 million received from Rangers for Kyle Lafferty to buy young players of potential: Chris Eagles, Martin Paterson and Kevin McDonald. He tells of being in the black for his transfer dealings, of Burnley being in the Championship's bottom four for turnover, and of average crowds that rank 22nd out of the 24 clubs in this League, but that is not the whole story.

He sends his players out to attack, to be bold, to impose something of themselves on every game, to leave with no regrets. So even though they were second from bottom after four League matches, he maintained his principles and they climbed into the play-offs. So even though they were drawn against Premier League clubs in the FA Cup and the Carling Cup, he maintained his principles and Burnley defeated Fulham, Chelsea, Arsenal, and West Bromwich Albion en route to the fifth round and semi- final respectively. Always true to his principles. He will do the same if Burnley reach the top flight.

"I wouldn't compromise," he says firmly. "During my time in Scotland, when you played Rangers or Celtic, you played for a 0-0. I was a striker and I'd end up doubling up at left-back and I cannae say I got a sense of enjoyment or achievement from it. We always play in a style so that when we get the ball, we commit men forward."

The players talk of his enthusiasm, his infectious energy, but also his uncompromising standards. Other clubs have noticed his work and in Scotland there is talk of him replacing Gordon Strachan if the latter leaves Celtic. Barry Kilby, Burnley's chairman, knows that he faces a fight to keep Coyle if they fail tomorrow, in a game worth £60m to the winners and more to Burnley, who were last in the top flight in 1976. A contract extension awaits his signature, and Coyle recoils from the speculation.

"It's wrong to be linked with jobs when people are in them," he asserts. "It's flattering, but I've got a job to do here at Burnley. This is the ultimate prize. What a stage to show that you are a good player. The whole world will be watching."

Who is this Owen Coyle? A manager who is true to himself. His biggest disappointment came when St Johnstone lost out on promotion on the final day of the season two years ago. He left a devastated dressing room to address the press, then his youngest daughter ran up to him and he picked her up for a hug. "I knew you'd come to me with a smile," he said. He had watched, he had learned, he was already moving on.

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