If we’re being honest, this decade has been a bit of a shitshow for Bolton Wanderers. Ten years, few highs & devastatingly low lows.
We started 2010 without a manager. Gary Megson had been dismissed just before the new year after Wanderers let a two goal lead slip against Hull City at The Reebok Stadium. Speculation was rife as to who would fill the open position. Former West Ham United & Charlton Athletic boss Alan Curbishley, Peterborough United manager Darren Ferguson & Newcastle United legend Alan Shearer had all been linked with the job, as had Mark Hughes, though he immediately distanced himself having only just been sacked by Manchester City.
It seemed like there was only one candidate that Phil Gartside was considering; Burnley manager Owen Coyle.
Familiar to Wanderers fans as a popular striker in the mid 90s, Coyle had taken Burnley from the bottom half of The Championship to the Premier League. With The Clarets comfortably in mid table, Coyle seemed to fit the bill; a young manager that would be a welcome change from the dour manner of Megson.
Despite distancing himself from the job, Coyle was announced on the 8th January, signing a two & a half year deal.
Within the first few weeks of his arrival, his former side arrived in Bolton full of anger and hatred. ‘Judas’ signs and banners filled the away end, as did fans wearing defaced masks of Coyle. Wanderers ran out 1-0 winners that night, a small victory for Coyle who had described Bolton as being “a decade ahead of Burnley.”
Owen set about putting his stamp on the team with a couple of signings as he aimed to keep Wanderers in the Barclays Premier League.
Three signings arrived: Vladimir Weiss & Jack Wilshere on loan from Manchester City and Arsenal respectively, with American midfielder Stuart Holden arriving on a free transfer from MLS side Houston Dynamo.
The signings impressed and proved integral as Coyle succeeded in keeping Wanderers up, which led to Wilshere making his debut for England & Weiss and Holden going to the World Cup in South Africa.
The following season (well three quarters of it anyway) proved to be one of the best periods of the decade.
Since Big Sam’s departure, Wanderers had become a typical mid table side, satisfied with floating just above the bottom three. Though the 2010/11 season would prove to be different.
Wanderers started to pick up results, earning praise for their dynamic style of football. The media praise that was missing whilst the club were riding high under Big Sam was there in spades for Coyle.
As Bolton triumphed over the likes of West Ham, Everton, Newcastle United & Tottenham Hotspur, Coyle’s stock reached an all time high.
At a time when Scottish managers were chic, Coyle was the golden boy, forever linked as being the eventual successor to Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
By November, Wanderers were comfortably in the top six, on the cusp of a simply unbelievable Champions League spot.
With Johan Elmander finally hitting the net & Daniel Sturridge’s arrival at the end of January, it looked as if Bolton would be heading towards another European adventure.
Then came that day at St Andrews; the day Chung-yong Lee became a cult hero. That header to send Bolton to Wembley will forever live in the memories of the fans who were lucky enough to be there & to those watching from afar.
It’s easily one of the greatest single moments of the decade, just pipped to the post by Aaron Wilbraham’s great escape.
When it was good under Coyle, it was great. I've previously written about this time describing the team as "the most underrated Wanderers side ever". A tad dramatic, though I think we can all agree we didn't appreciate just how good that team was at the time.
We were still attached to the Galacticos era under Allardyce, perhaps with a leftover lingering sense of entitlement that we should have been challenging for the top eight.
For me, the team that Coyle had assembled was a better "team" than the one that Big Sam had left. It lacked the star power & panache, though it was younger and had a far higher ceiling. The midfield was sublime. I still don't think we've had a better pairing than Holden & Muamba in the middle, with Mark Davies as the super sub to dazzle with his skill on the ball.
Unfortunately, the good times wouldn't last, as OC's limitations would soon come to light.
The wheels started to fall off for Coyle as the injuries piled up.
Stuart Holden, arguably one of the best midfielders that season, was destined for a move to a top six club, until that fateful day at Old Trafford.
Wanderers were humiliated at Wembley and never recovered in the league. A top eight finish looked a cert, though they slumped to a disappointing 14th place finish.
In the Summer, Bolton lost Chungy to a horror tackle during a pre season game at Newport.
With two of the most influential players gone, Bolton weren’t the same.
There was also the horrific events that unfolded at White Hart Lane during the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. We’re thankful that Fabrice survived
Coyle didn’t have a plan B to cope with the injuries and it led to a disappointing relegation on the final day of the season at The Britannia.
It was of the opinion of many that Coyle should have left then, many had lost confidence that he was the right person to steer the club back towards the top flight.
Just five months later, he was sacked after defeat against Millwall.
Owen Coyle did a lot of good during his time at Wanderers. He signed some of the best players to wear the white shirt this decade in Holden, Wilshere, Sturridge & produced some of the best football we’ve seen at The Reebok.
However, he is more remembered for his transfer failings, copious amounts of table tennis and his incessant use of “Barclays Premier League.”
He certainly had an eye for talent. Marcos Alonso & Rodrigo have had vastly successful careers in recent years, whilst the ones that got away, the likes of Thiago Alcântara, Jese Rodriguez and David Alaba have been successful too.
After missing those, large amounts of money was spent on players such as David N’Gog & the wages of Keith Andrews. Despite the odd good game, neither justified the money spent, the kind of spending which added towards the financial troubles in the years to come.
A lot of the most memorable moments from the last ten years were under Coyle's stewardship: Chungy's header, Holden's stunner against Blackburn, putting five past Newcastle & four past Spurs.
Coyle's legacy is tarnished by his failures; both tactically and in the transfer market.
In a parallel universe, there were never any serious injuries, Thiago was one of the best captains ever seen at Bolton and Wilfried Zaha topped the Premier League scoring charts for us. Stuart Holden went on to far greater things & Mark Davies has played for England.
Then there's Owen. Toasting another Barclays Premier League title victory at Arsenal with an ice cold Irn Bru.