Coaching row with Speed weakens Lee's grip at Bolton

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The Independent Football

Sammy Lee is battling to quell a player revolt and save his job at Bolton Wanderers after Gary Speed's spell as player-coach at the Reebok came to an acrimonious end yesterday.

Speed, 38, claims he called time on his five-month stint as coach after becoming disillusioned with his role under Lee, while the manager insists the decision was his alone. Lee said that he felt the time was right for Speed to put all his efforts into playing for the club.

"I would like Gary to focus on his game at this moment in time," he said. "I don't want anything to distract him. I want everybody – coaches and players – to be fully focussed on their game."

Speed claims that he is determined to prove his worth on the pitch, but maintained that he had chosen to step down from the coaching role.

"It was my decision," he said. "I decided it wasn't working out and I want to concentrate totally on my football. I have no problem with being left out of the team. Sammy is the manager, he makes the decisions and if he feels that's what's best for the team, that's fine.

"I was offered an extra year on my contract, which took the coaching role into account, though, and it had all been agreed but not signed. That might not be there now. But it is up to me to work hard and get back in the team and give 100 per cent, as I always do."

Lee, who succeeded Sam Allardyce as manager last May, has been involved in a series of disagreements with some of his senior players. The captain Kevin Nolan, the midfielder Ivan Campo and Speed have all been surprisingly dropped from the first team this term, despite an unfortunate run of results that has left Bolton in the Premier League's bottom three. And Lee's decision to omit Campo from the club's 25-man Uefa Cup squad has bewildered the former Real Madrid man and prompted critical chants from the Trotters' supporters.

Senior players have expressed their concerns to the chairman Phil Gartside over Lee's management style and the owner, Eddie Davies, is understood to be growing increasingly concerned by the breakdown of the relationship between Lee and his squad.

But Lee, who has spoken of "malignant rumours emanating from the dressing-room", has now demanded that any unhappy players confront him with any issues that they have. He said: "Who are these people? It's time for these senior sources to stand up and be counted.

"I know it's not everybody, but all I'd like is for those one or two to just come and knock on my door. I don't expect players to be happy when they are not playing, but all I ever ask is that they keep it in-house.

"I hear things about my methods, but I've been with these lads over two years and I've been at the English FA and with Liverpool.

"All I'm trying to do is make sure we can compete on all fronts. But they should keep whatever unhappiness they have in-house.

"It's bitterly disappointing that these things are leaking out. People are trying to undermine what we are trying to do."

Speed has relinquished his role after several key members of Allardyce's highly-respected backroom staff quit in recent months.

It is understood that Lee's decision to use first-team coach Ricky Sbragia for pre-match warm-ups at home games, while leaving him behind for away trips, is one of the developments to have angered some senior figures in the squad.

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