Don't get me wrong, the prospect of relegation is not one I relish. In fact, given that our stay in the Premiership has been so lengthy, this would be the first time seeing Bolton anywhere but the top division as I only started seriously supporting several years after our last promotion. I have held out for a long time, firmly believing that the men in white would find something in them to pull it out, but here we are, two games left in the season and still in the relegation zone. It is time to resign ourselves to the possibility that next year we will faced with an entirely new set of challenges. But it's not as much as a condemnation as it sounds. In many ways, relegation could actually help the club move forward.
With the exception of a few peaks and dips, Bolton has plateaued since the departure of Sam Allardyce. Love him or hate him, Big Sam had a coherent vision for the club, and built his team around that. His long ball and rough-and-tumble play drew a lot of criticism, but there's no denying the things he achieved with it. Under Allardyce, the club was promoted, established a firm presence in the Premiership, achieved 4 consecutive top 10 finishes, and even had a little ramble on the European stage.
While in the current squad the only two real remnants of Big Sam's boys are Jussi Jaaskelainen and Kevin Davies, neither of whom were regular starters this season, there has not been a proper rebirth from that team. Until this truly happens, the ghost of Big Sam will always haunt the Reebok.
A move to the Championship would both necessitate that contracts be reexamined, and allow Coyle to really bring in his team. It would be an opportunity to shift dead weight in the squad, something that has needed to happen for a while. A plethora of players have contracts expiring in 2012, Zat Knight, Paul Robinson, Sean Davis, and Robbie Blake amongst others. Letting these players go would be a big step forward in clearing space on the books.
The already mostly young squad will certainly help in the rebuild. The stand out players this season have mostly been young, relative unknowns such as Adam Bogdan, Fabrice Muamba, and Mark Davies. This not only sets them up to continue developing in Coyle's mold, but also paves the way for other players to follow.
It is also worth pointing out that if the club is going to get relegated, the right man to get them back up is at the helm already., as Burnley knows well. The Scotman took the Clarets to the top division for the first time in 33 years in his first full season in charge, when 2 seasons before they had been threatened with relegation to League One. Given the patience and resources, he could do the same for us and we could optimistically be back up in one or two seasons.
Relegation is by no means an ideal prospect, but I don't think it's much worse than another relegation battle in the Premiership next season. This is an opportunity for the club to rejuvenate itself, exorcise Big Sam, and have a glorious rebirth into the Premiership. It's a chance to regain consistency, and for Owen Coyle to put his brand on the club.
This piece is for my Charlton Athletic supporting friend with whom I have made the admittedly unwise bet that if Bolton get relegated I will wear his Addicks top. That will undoubtedly be the worst part of relegation. Thanks Dan!