Bolton players will struggle to focus admits Owen Coyle

 

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The Independent Football

Bolton manager Owen Coyle has admitted it will be impossible not to think of Fabrice Muamba when his team take on Blackburn this weekend.

Seven days after Muamba was left fighting for his life after he suffered a cardiac arrest at Tottenham, his team-mates will attempt to haul Bolton out of the relegation zone.

Ordinarily, the Lancashire derby would be viewed as crucial, a make-or-break encounter of over-riding importance.

The events of the past week have rather undermined that argument.

Yes, Bolton will be trying. Yes, they could do with a win. But no, it will not demand focus to the exclusion of anything else.

"Football is not more important than what has happened," said Coyle.

"Nobody is more passionate about football than me. Is the game important? Yes in the context of the Premier League, and we will do our best.

"But football is not the be all and end all. What happened to Fabrice on Saturday puts everything in perspective and our first thoughts will be with him."

Coyle spoke with his players at a team meeting yesterday and will do so again before finalising his side.

They have all been told to speak up if there is a shred of doubt over the participation in a game so soon after was one of the most harrowing experiences they will ever endure.

So far, there has been only silence.

"No-one has said that they don't want to play but that may change in the next couple of days because it is going to be difficult," said Coyle.

"I had a collective chat with the group and outlined everything that happened, so there was a clear picture.

"One or two asked questions and if anyone feels it is too much for them, there would be no problem. They just have to let us know. We would do the right thing by them."

Coyle has earned widespread praise for the manner in which he has dealt with the aftermath of the moment when Muamba collapsed during the FA Cup quarter-final with Tottenham, a moment that shocked a nation and led to tears from the Bolton club doctor as he fought to save Muamba, who effectively died for 78 minutes before his heart started working.

The Scot dismisses those personal gestures. From the moment he saw Muamba go down he was on automatic pilot.

"When I came on the pitch, all I wanted to do was pick Fabrice up and put him back on his feet," he said.

"It was difficult to see that happening to someone you know dearly.

"People deal with it in different ways and I suppose you have an in-built mechanism that kicks in.

"But I also know my family are always there for me."

Muamba was Coyle's chief concern.

He still is, which is why the Bolton manager has cautioned against expecting too much of the 23-year-old despite the rapid progress that has been made.

"Fabrice still has a long way to go," said Coyle.

"It has to be remembered that people have been in for 30 seconds, not 10 or 15 minutes.

"We all just wanted to see that big smile back on his face.

"What has happened is encouraging but he is still in intensive care and he is still seriously ill."

If there is anything to be thankful for, it is that Muamba's attack happened in the one place, outside of a medical establishment or an ambulance, best able to cope with such a dire emergency.

It is widely accepted that without the support staff around, including the cardiologist that flew out of the stands to offer assistance, Muamba's fight for life would not have got this far.

"The first few days were surreal," said Coyle.

"Our focus, from the immediate point of Fabrice's collapse, was to make sure he could recover.

"We are all astonished with where we are now.

"Monday was a big day. The hospital had cooled him down to try and stabilise him and at 8am, they started to warm him back up again.

"That is when Fabrice had to kick in and do things of his own accord to have any chance.

"He did because we know the fighter he is and how strong he is. That was an incredible day."

PA

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