There was hardly a shortage of talking points as the Bolton Wanderers players gathered for their Friday-morning meeting ahead of today's local derby with Blackburn Rovers. Nicolas Anelka had been and gone, saying his goodbyes before heading south to Chelsea; television screens around the stadium were alternating that news with the latest fallout from Newcastle's sacking of Sam Allardyce only eight months after he left the Reebok.
For Kevin Davies, both items were a source of regret, yet he has been around long enough to know that players come and go just as fast as managers, and that one man's transfer is another's opportunity. Specifically, the powerful forward expects to have the chance today to revert to his favourite role as a central striker after filling in as a willing touchline worker since Anelka's arrival.
"It's a role I probably prefer," he said. "I've been asked to do a job on the right or the left. But the first couple of seasons with me at the top we had a lot of success and a lot of the lads scored goals off me. So that's probably the way we're going to be unless somebody comes in. Who knows? Last game I played I got brought off at half-time."
That should not be taken as a lack of confidence on the part of Gary Megson, Allardyce's successor-but-one after Sammy Lee's unhappy interregnum left Bolton bottom of the League. With El-Hadji Diouf off to the African Nations Cup, Megson is keen to find another striker but is likely in the meantime to trust Davies with the job of target man and principal scorer.
Megson said: "We've got a top-class centre-forward playing wide on the right who'd have been at centre-forward if we hadn't had a real superstar in Nic." Valuable as Anelka's goals were, an unselfish team manlike Davies somehow seems a better fit for Megson and Bolton.
Davies himself, choosing his words carefully, also implied that life without the player dogged by the tag of "Le Sulk" might have its benefits: "It's a difficult role playing out wide, trying to support your full-back and getting up there as well, it's hard graft. It's not a criticism of Nic, but sometimes as a striker you have to fill in and give the wide men a bit of a breather. In the first two years here I'd play like that with 'Dioufi'. Maybe we'll be willing to rotate and help people out a bit more like that.
"He's a world-class player but it's a good piece of business for the club, they've made a great profit. We feel we'll be okay. We're moving out of the mess but he's not done it by himself. He gets the goals but he didn't bring other things to the team, the work-rate and things like that, so maybe whoever comes in can bring different attributes to help the team."
Team spirit has mattered to Davies all the more since he perceived a lack of it in an unhappy spell with today's opponents. Successful at Southampton after starring in Chesterfield's famous run to the FA Cup semi-finals 10 years ago, he moved to Blackburn for an extravagant £7.5 million. "There's no real positives there for me. It happened and I moved on a long time ago. The dressing room wasn't great, I didn't play that many games. It wasn't a great time but it made me a stronger person."
As it should do for Allardyce, about whose demise Davies is equally forthright: "It's a joke. If they were sat in the bottom three you'd have something to cry about, but they're 11th. The fans there don't seem to have the patience. I can't understand it really, I just couldn't believe it. I thought he'd be given a bit more time, but once the fans and media got on to him he didn't stand much chance, did he?
"You knew where you stood with him," he added. "If he had something to say to you he would tell you, whether it was criticism or encouragement. His man-management skills and the way he knew how to prepare to beat a team were brilliant."
Lee having been given even less time at Bolton after trying to adopt a possession-based passing game, Megson is looking for a happy stylistic medium,and to general surprise he appears to have found one. As well as progressing to the knockout stage of the Uefa Cup – Davies scoring a rare goal to earn a draw away to Bayern Munich – Bolton have collected 15 points from his 11 League games, including a rapturously received home victory over Manchester United.
Davies says of his latest manager: "I think he wants a bit of everything, we're not Route One, he wants us to play to the best of our abilities, but first and foremost it's being hard to break down. Then once we get the ball, breaking with power and pace."
He said that in Friday's meeting, "we reviewed the last 10 games, which has been a decent phase for us, and set goals for the next 10. Looking at the fixtures, we feel we can pick up maybe 15 points." For Bolton, the future starts this afternoon.
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