The benefit to clubs of employing a former hero as manager is unquestionably overrated, though so many continue to do it. Leeds United in the Eighties, under a whole succession of players from the Don Revie era, achieved nothing until an outsider called Howard Wilkinson came in and made them champions of England again; at Tottenham, Ossie Ardiles and then Glenn Hoddle were welcomed back with rapture but soon had to be discarded.
The one thing such an appointment does, apart from winning kudos for the chairman as a popular one, is give the new man a little extra time before the inviolable law of results kicks in. The added factor in Owen Coyle's favour as he waves to the crowd before today's game at home to Arsenal is simply that he is not Gary Megson.
Coyle may have spent only two years of his 22-year playing career in England but he is able to reminisce about happy days at Bolton from 1993-95, which he did on Friday at some length. For those who believe in omens, an FA Cup giant-killing over this afternoon's opponents was one of the highlights: "It was in 1994 and we had a fantastic Cup run," said Coyle. "We were eight minutes from being knocked out in the first round by Gretna, who were in the Unibond League at the time. The only reason I tell that part of the story is because I scored two goals in the last eight minutes to beat them 3-2.
"We beat Lincoln, then Everton and then we played Arsenal, the holders. I was able to score late on in the game to make it 2-2 and we beat them 3-1 at Highbury in the replay. But both games were real footballing games, and so enjoyable." There are clues there not just to his status as a local hero but, in that last sentence, to the type of football he wants to play, elaborated upon as follows: "I believe that the best sight in football is the ball hitting the back of the net. Second to that I believe that one of the classic sights is a winger taking on a full-back and getting crosses in the box, because as a fan you automatically get out of your seat and think something exciting is going to happen. I believe you have to pass and move the ball and get your wide players on it."
It may not sound like the Bolton of recent vintage, knocking long passes towards a big, combative centre-forward, and Coyle acknowledges the transformation will not be instant. "You can't click your fingers and nothing happens overnight, [but] that's the way I want to play. I like to play the game at a decent pace, with the ball moving quickly and making one- against-one situations where you can excite people. To do that you have to pass and move that ball very quickly."
Rather like Arsenal, then; indeed, Burnley's drawn game against Arsène Wenger's swift pass-masters just before Christmas was one of his most enjoyable as a manager. "For me, he's the perfect ambassador and role model for building that type of team."
If remoulding a team's style takes time – a commodity few managers in a relegation position are blessed with – it is essential to have the support of the players. Impressive testimony is provided by the Icelandic full-back Gretar Steinsson, who says: "It's been a fantastic week. I came in this week feeling I was 16 or 17 and going for a trial. Everything is new, just a fantastic atmosphere, a positive thing. He really wants to be here and we have felt that. His energy is what it's all about – he wants to get this club forward. We have the battlers and powerhouses but we have the silky footballers too and can allow them to shine. I am sure his way of football will do that."
Coyle's departure from Turf Moor so soon after signing a four-year extension to his contract divided Burnley supporters into bitter idealists and mildly cynical pragmatists. Most were, naturally enough, in the former camp and regard his tears on walking away from the club with his assistants as being of the crocodile variety; a crocodile waiting to devour his former friends when they walk into the Reebok jungle on Tuesday week for what promises to be a tumultuous evening.
But first Arsenal, and a cat-and- mouse affair.Reuse content