When Owen Coyle played for Bolton Wanderers, he often got ‘under the skin’ of opposing defenders. As a manager, he is certainly infectious, albeit in a different way. The Scot was certainly ebullient at the club’s training ground when FIFA.com came calling, rushing out for a photo opportunity to promote a cancer care charity, stopping en route to present a young fan with a signed matchball. You get the feeling that, as well as being a good manager, Coyle is fundamentally a good man.
Coyle has been with the north-west club a little over two years, but is already the ninth-longest serving manager in the Premier League, a fact which took him by surprise. “That shows you the difficulty of the job, regardless of what level you’re involved in and shows how quickly it can change,” he told FIFA.com. “The bottom line is that I feel very fortunate and very privileged to have had a career in football, as a player, a coach and as a manager.
"Is it a job? I don’t see it as that because I love football and I love being involved in it. There are difficult moments of course within football, there are ups and downs - we know there are some uncontrollable things out there that can go against you, injuries or a wrong decision, that can happen. But as long as I know that every day I’m giving my best then that’ll do for me.”
It has been a topsy-turvy time for Bolton since Coyle’s appointment in January 2010. Inheriting a team that were second from bottom in the league, he saved them from relegation and got off to a flying start in his first full season. European qualification and an FA Cup final were on his mind this time 12 months ago, but fast forward to today and the team are second from bottom in the Premier League table with just 20 points from 25 games.
“When we started the season we had five players out injured who would have started in our team,” Coyle continued. “We had a slow start and meant we were playing catch-up. What we know is that when we’ve got our best players available, we would certainly be well up the league. What we need to do, first and foremost now, is make sure we’re in the Premier League. We believe that we’ll do that, I’ve not seen anything to alter that belief and the coming months will show that.”
There is light at the end of the tunnel for Coyle. The injured players are slowly but surely returning to full fitness and he has strengthened his squad still further by bringing Arsenal midfielder Ryo Miyaichi on loan, as well as USA defender Tim Ream, following Gary Cahill’s £7.5 million move to Chelsea. The 24-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri joins countryman Stuart Holden at the Reebok Stadium and Coyle is convinced that there is more to come from across the Atlantic.
“There’s no doubt that the US are going to be a footballing force for many years to come on a global scale in World Cups and everything else,” said Coyle. “If you look at the players that have made an impact in the Premier League, the best league in the world, there has been an influx of players from the US, and I think that will continue. The difficulty they have is because of their education system. They don’t continue their progress at college, they tend to plateau out. If there was a system that kept them progressing, I think there would be even more talented young players to be had from that country. But still, there is huge talent in the US and Tim Ream is certainly in that bracket.”
Ream’s debut came last Saturday in a 2-0 FA Cup victory over Millwall, a result which put the Trotters into the last eight of the competition where they will face either Stevenage or Spurs in the next round. While some managers nowadays establish the Premier League as their club’s sole focus, Coyle believes that a good cup run can have a positive effect on the dressing room.
“Winning games breeds confidence which helps with camaraderie and that’s the way I approach it; the more games we win, the better we all feel,” he said, smiling. “In terms of domestic cups, it’s the best cup competition in the world. If you go to any country in the world, the FA Cup is the one that all fans, all over the world are talking about and that never changes. Of course I love any cup competition, but I think there’s an extra special glamour and magic to the FA Cup.”
Alongside Sir Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish, Steve Kean, Paul Lambert, Alex McLeish and David Moyes, Coyle is one of seven Scottish managers in the English top-flight. And there is no doubt that he considers Ferguson to be the pick of the bunch.
“It’s very difficult to sum up, but I think it’s fair to say that, for me, he’s (Sir Alex Ferguson) been the best manager that football has ever had,” said Coyle. “The great thing about that is the success at all the clubs he’s been at. This is a manager who’s won a European trophy with Aberdeen, and won the league with them in spite of the strength of Celtic and Rangers. He’s somebody who came to Manchester United who were not the Manchester United they are now.
“This is somebody who’s built that club up bit by bit. Having done that, teams were then dismantled with some players in the top five in the world at that time having left the club and he had to rebuild again. He’s done that consistently and built about four or five different teams there and he continues to get success. The 12 league titles that he’s won are an incredible achievement. For me, without a doubt, he’s the best manager we’ve ever had in world football.”