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How to Arrest the Decline of Bolton Wanderers

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With Wanderers enduring yet another awful start to a season fans are understandably baying for the managers' blood, but where has it all gone wrong for The Trotters and is there a feasible escape plan?

Josh Vela is one of a number of youngsters vying for a first-team place at Bolton
Josh Vela is one of a number of youngsters vying for a first-team place at Bolton
Charlie Crowhurst

It may have a fancy new name but the doom and gloom surrounding the Middlebrook Retail Park is all too familiar following a third consecutive poor start to a Championship season for Bolton Wanderers.

Wanderers couldn't really have wished for a worse start to life post-Reebok, taking just one point from five league games, and only beating League 2 Bury and League 1 strugglers Crewe to set up a scary third round Capital One Cup tie at Chelsea - leaving Macron wondering what they've let themselves in for. As a result of this poor start many fans are demanding the club sack manager Dougie Freedman, but the mess we find ourselves in isn't necessarily his fault and chopping and changing the manager again is not likely to change anything at all.

Many people looking from the outside in will question how Bolton have fallen from the 'glory days' of knocking Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid out of the UEFA Cup back in 2007/08, to now languishing in the Championship relegation zone. To be fair, we aren't the first team this has happened to - think Leeds United, Middlesbrough, Nottingham Forest, Leicester City and Coventry City for example, so it's not going to be an easy task to arrest the decline.

Bolton's problems stem back to the days of Sam Allardyce, who worked minor miracles in guiding Wanderers from being a decent Division One (now the Championship) side to being the Premier League side that nobody wanted to play against. The board's failure to back Big Sam with the financial clout he needed to take the club to the next level saw him walk away, to be replaced by a constant stream of managerial failures.

The farcical decision to put Sammy Lee in charge was swiftly followed by the arrival of Gary Megson who, despite leading us on a decent European run, was never popular with the fans as the team struggled to 16th place in that UEFA Cup season. He was then replaced by former fans' favourite at Burnden Park Owen Coyle, under whom supporters began to believe we could have a return to success.

But the season that really saw things unravel dramatically was the 2010/11 campaign. Wanderers went all the way to the FA Cup Semi-Final only to be humiliated 5-0 by Stoke City at Wembley, a result that saw Bolton go on an horrendous run of form through the finale of the campaign. And that dire form only carried on in the following season as the side slipped down into the Championship, facing multiple hard breaks such as the loss of Stuart Holden to a long-lasting knee injury and Fabrice Muamba's on-pitch cardiac arrest at White Hart Lane.

Since then the situation has become increasingly depressing, with the poor on-pitch performances paling into insignificance when compared with the club's dire finances - rumours suggest the club is at least £160 million in debt and only stays afloat thanks to being bankrolled by majority shareholder Eddie Davies.

So the big question is, how do you change the fortunes of a club that has lost all of its best players, whose fans are increasingly staying away from matches, and is massively in debt? Well, one potential answer lies some 230 miles south in Southampton.

In May 2005, Southampton were relegated from the top tier of English football for the first time in 27 years. Four years later they saw themselves facing the impossible, with relegation to League One in part as a result of the club going into administration. Yet another five years on the club is back where the fans will feel it belongs as a fairly solid Premier League, albeit having had wholesale changes over the past summer.

Southampton made their way back to the top not by blowing huge amounts of cash on big name players, despite several takeovers in club ownership. They rebuilt the nucleus of their team and maintained fan support and interest in the team by promoting and advocating youth. They have invested in their youth system and produced an incredible conveyor belt of talent, including Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw who, despite having all now moved on for big money, have given the club at least some financial stability.

I'm not advocating that Bolton have to immediately throw loads of cash into new youth facilities, but you do have to question the huge dirth in young talent coming through the door. In the past 20 years that I have been a Bolton supporter I can only think of a handful of players that have graduated from our academy to become first team regulars - Kevin Nolan, Joey O'Brien and Nicky Hunt.

What I am arguing is that we need to give some of our youngsters a prolonged chance. Last season Andy Kellett and Hayden White were given minor chances in the first-team and looked fairly promising but were immediately dropped in favour of senior pros. The likes of Josh Vela and Joe Riley have had glimpses of first-team football but never got a big opportunity, admittedly mainly due to injury, and we have youngsters like Zach Clough and Conor Wilkinson who have impressed in the Development Squad and in pre-season friendlies but then get overlooked for the senior squad.

I'm sure the large majority of Bolton fans would be happy to be see youth given a chance. After all, when Southampton first gave Gareth Bale a start at left-back, who could have foreseen him going on to be one of the best players in the world? The point is that youngsters need to be given a chance and we can't afford to get on their back when they make a mistake.

I for one would much rather see Clough or Wilkinson given a chance than the likes of Chung-Yong Lee and Jermaine Beckford, who constantly disappoint and don't look like they want to be playing for the club.