The Last Word: Let's hope that Coyle falls flat on his two faces

Burnley fans are forgotten victims as fake declarations of loyalty sum up twisted logic of the Premier League

James Corrigan
Sunday 10 January 2010 01:00
Owen Coyle happens to be the inevitable product of decades of chairmen who double as egomaniacs
Owen Coyle happens to be the inevitable product of decades of chairmen who double as egomaniacs

There are traders in the City who would doubtless disagree, but the relationship between manager and club must now be classed as the most unstable employer-employee bond in the whole of the British workplace. It is rapidly becoming the case that all's fair in love, war and the termination of a gaffer's contract. On either side.

The desperately grotty story of Owen Coyle leaving Burnley surely proves how footballing management is now characterised by a double-edged axe which can be swung without sentiment by either side.

These are the facts. In the summer, Coyle said: "The fans know the rapport I have with this football club. We think we have an exciting challenge ahead of us and I want it to continue." In the winter, Coyle said: "I don't want it to continue."

What changed in those six months? How did the rapport transform into recrimination, with Coyle not allowed to leave for the bright lights of Bolton while the lawyers thrashed out their compensation deal?

Did Burnley endure a dreadful start to the season in which tensions between board and dug-out were strained to breaking point as no funds were forthcoming to pull the Clarets out of the sediment? Nope. In 14th place with 20 points, Burnley are making a decent fist of staying upright in an arena where many had them out for the count before the first bell had even rung.

True, they have not won a League match since October and the £4 million kitty available for the January transfer window will hardly entice the cavalry over the brow. But this could not be described as a kick in the teeth for Coyle. "He knew the situation," said the Burnley chairman, Barry Kilby. Too damn right he did.

In truth, nothing whatsoever has changed in those six months – certainly not any sudden erosion of allegiance on Coyle's part. Commentators call this Scotsman "shrewd" and "canny" for rejecting Celtic's close-season offer but accepting this one from Bolton. The Premier League is where it's at, they say, and Coyle was as correct to express his loyalty to Burnley then as he is to dismiss it now. After all, there are so many examples of promising managers who have discovered that if you do not stay where it's at, you end up where it isn't. Aidy Boothroyd at Colchester, Alan Pardew at Southampton... can you really blame Owen Coyle? Well, the Burnley fans can and, as ever, they seem to be the forgotten victims in all of this.

In the midst of the town's Premier League euphoria, Coyle said the following when asked why he declined the club of his boyhood dreams: "I'm a Celtic fan. But I looked at what we had built at Burnley, I thought of the players I'd persuaded to be part of this, and in the end I knew I had to stay and carry on this incredible adventure."

So, like the gullible fools they are, the Claret faithful believed he would not be joining relegation rivals while that adventure remained half-finished. But here they are and there he goes, and not only going but being praised for putting his own ambitions first. So much for the adventure. It's actually in Coyle's interests now that Burnley's journey ends in tears. Nice.

And the worst of it is that what little criticism Coyle has received at national level has not focused on the morals of going back on pledges or even on the substantive argument that the club he said he "loved" might actually have had more chance of staying up if he'd left at the start of the campaign and not halfway through it. No, it actually focused on whether Bolton are really a bigger club than Burnley and if Coyle wouldn't have been better off waiting for a bigger offer. Welcome to the twisted logic of the Premier League. Please excuse some of us while we wait with eager anticipation to watch Coyle fall flat on either of those faces...

Harsh? Probably. But only because none of this is Coyle's fault in the sense that he happens to be the inevitable product of decade upon decade of egomaniacal chairmanship. Darwinian laws dictated it would only be a matter of time before the survival gene developed sufficiently for managers to understand that not only do you have to walk before you are pushed, but you have to do so regardless of whatever broken vows you leave behind. Indeed, the more shattered the fans the better, as timing is all- important. Go when your star is still in the ascendancy and not when the dream is crashing to earth. Or else you will be forced to swallow the first mouthful of dirt.

So Mr Kilby can thank all of his boardroom forefathers for creating the mercenaries who prowl the technical areas with their hearts on their sleeves and their agents on the blower. While he's at it, Kilby can also thank grotesque entities such as the new Manchester City for ensuring managers are less inclined to trust their overlords than ever before and, hence, even more likely to dump on the club.

Didn't someone once say: "You've got to give loyalty down, if you want loyalty up"? That's no doubt true, and perhaps we should applaud the worm for turning and at last biting back. But football has not yet sunk so low where it is required to accept fake declarations of "loyalty" with a shrug and a knowing smirk. It can't be long until a manager's "I'm here for the long term" speech is regarded as ominously as the board's "vote of confidence". At Turf Moor it already is.

Have your say

Do you agree or disagree with James Corrigan? Email your thoughts about any article inThe Independent on Sunday's sport section to the editor

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments