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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers Banter » Big Sam: The most difficult players I managed at Bolton Wanderers

Big Sam: The most difficult players I managed at Bolton Wanderers

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karlypants

karlypants
Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
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It's 15 years since Wanderers qualified for Europe with a multi-cultural team assembled from all four corners of the globe.

Sam Allardyce’s League of Nations, which established Bolton as a genuine Premier League force, was rightly hailed as a managerial success assembled from a budget far lower than those of the established elite.

But not every signing was a success. For every Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff there was at least one Mario Espatero or a Pierre Yves-Andre.

And some players just did not settle into a club embracing sports science more readily than any of their rivals.

Allardyce admits difficult players in his near 30-year managerial career have been “too many to mention” but found that some of the more extreme cases cropped up in his time with time with Bolton.

One story in particular has passed into Wanderers folklore. The day Frenchman Bernard Mendy and fiery Turkish star Akin Bulent came to blow at the club’s Euxton training ground.

“It started with a tackle from Bernard and Akin didn’t like the tackle,” Allardyce recalled.

“Bernard mumbled something in French that I am not so sure Akin could understand and a scuffle broke out.

“I thought ‘we’d better stop this now’ and so we came off the training ground and then just outside the dressing room, that got broken up, and then the next thing I know Faz Page, the physio, brought Bernard into my office and said he’d have to leave them there because they just kicked off again, which was apparently a pretty hell-for-leather go. But because it was a slippy floor and they had studs on, apparently they could hardly stand up when they were trying to fight each other.

“There was a bit of blood by this time. And I am calming Bernard down in my office, which was a Portakabin at the time, and the next thing I know Akin came flying through the door with a foot-kick right in Bernanrd’s chest. He got up and ran out trying to catch Akin Bulent but luckily enough the staff were outside, it gets broken up and we sent them packing as quick as we could.

“It was the biggest and most intense fight I ever saw on the training ground.”

One name sticks in people’s minds when Allardyce’s most unsuccessful signings are listed at Bolton.

Brazilian scoring machine Mario Jardel looked like an arrival who could share the same world class pedestal as Okocha, Djorkaeff or N’Gotty but his continual battles to prove his fitness, frequent disappearances from the training ground and poor record on the pitch mean that these days he is regarded more as a byword for poor Bolton players of the era.

“Mario Jardel was difficult,” Allardyce reflected. “A Brazilian international, 6ft 4ins, came from Portugal with 260 goals in 390-odd games – we thought we’d found a big one. But we’d found a party animal we couldn’t control.

“We had to do our best to move him on.

“he just wasn’t doing the right things. We had a particularly rigid regime on how you looked after your body and did all the areas we’d introduced at Bolton Wanderers but he wasn’t used to any of it – he was still living in the days when we played and went to Benny’s after a game. We stopped drinking on a Tuesday night and there was no diet – and he was one of those still.

“He was of that era and he struggled badly in the Premier League.”

Asked about the most difficult players in his time at Bolton, Allardyce took some time recalling the name at the top of his list. Many Wanderers fans may struggle too, considering the negligible impact he had on the club.

“Djibril Diawara was actually a Champions League finalist at Monaco,” said the former England boss, regaining his train of thought.

“The police rang one night and said ‘we’ve got your player, he’s drunk’. He’d tried to change a tire on his car which was flat and it’s 2.30am. That was the end of him.”

Nobody hit the back – and front – page headlines in Allardyce’s time at Bolton quite like El-Hadji Diouf.

The Senegalese striker arrived with a reputation for being a difficult customer when he was initially loaned from Liverpool but did enough to warrant Bolton shelling out a club record £4million fee in June 2005.

He would, of course, go on to win the hearts of Wanderers fans despite some unsavoury moments on the pitch – but Allardyce insists he was nowhere near the bad boy that some portrayed him to be.

“Diouf caused me some problems but the ones he caused were not as big as those I mentioned. They were naughty rather than being really poor discipline,” he said.

“He had his way. It was difficult for some of the other players to accept his players sometimes on how brilliant he was, nobody was better than him, ‘you are lucky to play with me’ and all that sort of stuff. He wasn’t frightened of putting forward how good he thought he was.

“But actually on the field of play his contribution was massive and in all fairness Bolton Wanderers fans took him to their heart when they saw him on a regular basis.

“We had a few problems, the biggest of all was getting him to cut the spitting bit out. Once we’d had a proper conversation that never occurred again.”

Asked about his favourite chairman in nearly five decades as a player and manager, Allardyce picked out three names from his playing days, his early managerial career – and then arguably his peak in the club game.

“I had a great chairman at Millwall, Alan Thorne, who did everything he could to help me settle the family,” he said. “He did everything he could to extend my career after the problems I’d had with Sunderland.

“He was like Tommy Trinder with a trilby hat and Brylcreemed hair. He had that cockney accent and he was fabulous, got me and Lynne a house, kids a school, because I’d been living away from them at Sunderland, which I found difficult to cope with.

“In those days he was the best – but in football terms as a manager, there’s no doubt the effect Father Joe Young had on me at Limerick. A Catholic priest with a protestant manager, sometimes that’s frowned upon in Limerick, but his support and his enthusiasm for life is unbelievable.

“They just couldn’t knock him. He lived in a very difficult area, his parish, where Limerick played. Some of his teaching and the things he talked about to me were very influential in my management career.

“Then I think I’d say the first five years at the Wanderers were great with Phil Gartside.

“That unfortunately, God rest his soul now he’s passed away, but it faded towards the end, sadly. It was purely and simply on the lack of understanding and the fact he didn’t realise that the ambition of managers and players is to succeed. If you try and knock that and try and stop you succeeding then it becomes a problem.”

Allardyce also admits he misses locking horns with the Premier League’s top managers, as he did so regularly in his days with Bolton.

Though his relationship with Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez has improved with age, there were times when the war of words would be stoked up weeks in advance of a game against Liverpool or Arsenal by the national press.

Allardyce managed 511 Premier League games - from that memorable 5-0 win at Leicester City in 2001 with the Whites to a 3-1 defeat as Everton boss in May 2018 against his former club West Ham. But winding up the so-called big guns was never more enjoyable than with Wanderers.

“It used to be great setting up and thinking ‘what am I going to do today to get under his skin a little bit?’ “Everyone used to go on about Fergie, Arsene and the top managers, so I was in the Premier League thinking ‘what’s wrong with me having a go at him?’ “The one thing you have got to remember is that your team has to do the business for you. As long as you’ve got those attributes of your team fighting for you, you’ll do OK.”

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