He has called this season his greatest challenge. But Owen Coyle, like most in his position as Premier League manager, is prone to hyperbole. Is it really his greatest challenge? On one hand, it's hard to say. On the other hand, Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch not too long ago. His illness was more serious, but he did join Chung-Yong Lee, Stuart Holden, Tyrone Mears, Sean Davis, and Ricardo Gardner on the list of players who missed a huge part of, if not essentially the entire, 2011-2012 season.
It wasn't long ago that Owen Coyle was the darling of England. Bolton were in the top half of the table, playing beautiful flowing football, attacking at will, and traveling to Wembley Stadium for an FA Cup semifinal.It wasn't long after that when Jonny Evans slid recklessly into Holden's knee. Our player of the year, the engine that made Bolton Wanderers go, was seriously injured. How seriously? It has been over a year, and he is still not playing. Maybe this was a harbinger of bad things to come for Owen Coyle and his club.
Stoke City destroyed Bolton at Wembley. The club dropped to 14th on the back of indifferent to poor form. Summer recruitment was largely insignificant. Important players got injured during preseason. Then the fixture list came out, and it was absolutely brutal in the first two months for Bolton. It would take a steady hand and tactical mind to shepherd the fragile Wanderers through this minefield. Coyle was proved to possess neither. Not only were Bolton losing, they were getting hammered. The only bright light, the only source of inspiration, was the impending return of talisman Stuart Holden.
Then Holden went back under the knife. Out for the season. We were on our own. What could Owen do?
There was only one answer. Change everything. That attacking 4-4-2, so glorified the season before, ceased linking Coyle with the likes of Arsenal and started linking him with relegation. Was he a good manager after all?
Bolton went 4-2-3-1 and results improved. Coyle went back to 4-4-2, results went down the toilet again. Finally, after several stops and starts, Wanderers seemed to find a bit of form, pulling out of the relegation zone and making another FA Cup run. It was a festive atmosphere for those who went to White Hart Lane in support of Bolton's FA Cup dream. But that all changed. Everyone knows what happened next. Owen Coyle no longer had to lead a group of football players. He had to lead a family. A family who had just witnessed the near-death of one of their own.
Coyle handled it perfectly. The whole footballing world united behind Bolton Wanderers. Now Fabrice is playing keepy-uppy with reporters, and Bolton have scored a huge victory over Aston Villa. There is certainly more to do, but Bolton have it in their hands. Win and stay up.
So this probably has been Coyle's most challenging season. Given that, if we put all the off-field stuff aside, he is a football manager trying to avoid relegation. And with that, here is our featured poll. If you are in a relegation scrap, who do you want as a manager?