“Had we stayed up, that would have been my greatest achievement.”
Owen Coyle kept Wanderers in the Premier League in 2010 but couldn’t repeat the same feat a couple of years later.
The Scot, a popular figure at Bolton from his playing days, seemed a perfect fit to replace Gary Megson after achieving a near miraculous promotion with North West neighbours Burnley.
Coyle had a big impact in the short term, guiding the Whites to a comfortable 14th-place finish despite fears of relegation when he took charge.
The following season got off to a hugely promising start and his Wanderers side were briefly in the top four in November.
However, Coyle’s men couldn’t maintain their momentum in the second half of the campaign and were eventually forced to settle for 14th place. The infamous 5-0 defeat against Stoke in the FA Cup semi-final also left a bitter taste.
Injuries to Stuart Holden and Chung-Yong Lee set the tone for what was to come in 2011/12, with the club’s 11-year stay in the top flight ultimately coming to an end.
“When I came to Bolton, I was under the impression there was going to be money to spend down the line,” Coyle told Fore Four 2 Podcast.
“At that point, Bolton already owed – I know the majority was to Eddie (Davies) – but it was a considerable sum.”
He continued: “I left Burnley and a budget of £16million. I think Bolton’s was in the high forties to £50million. For where the club was, it was probably too high.
“I had the challenge of trying to reduce it but at the same time, still keeping quality players. There is an old saying in the Premier League that ordinarily, you finish where you spend.”
A 2-2 draw at Stoke on the final day sealed Wanderers’ fate, with QPR surviving by the slimmest of margins.
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“The stuff we had to go through that people don’t know about and even the injuries we had,” Coyle recalled.
“Even on the last day at Stoke, Chris Foy was the referee. If you watch it back, you will see two of the worst goals awarded against a Bolton team.
“The first was a free kick on Adam Bogdan. For the second, Peter Crouch overhits the ball and falls over Adam and he gives the penalty. Had we won, Queens Park Rangers would have been relegated.
“Tim Ream - who has gone on to have an unbelievable career - missed a header from four yards out from a corner and if that went in, things would have been all different.
“I loved my time at Bolton, the fans and everything else about it. But that is football.”
A poor start in the Championship saw the Scot’s tenure come to an end several months later, with Dougie Freedman named as his successor.
Reflecting on his time in charge at Bolton, Coyle admitted the project was not quite what he had expected after making the tough call to leave Burnley.
“The reason I came and left Burnley, part of it was that I thought I was getting the opportunity to add to and build on (the existing squad),” he explained.
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“Every year, the budget was reduced. When I came in, there were some really good players but there were also players who had been accumulated over a number of years that weren’t going to play because they weren’t good enough.
“Nobody else in the Premier League was going to take them when they were on big salaries and nobody in the Championship could afford them.”
The 57-year-old says the club’s financial restrictions were challenging to work with, sometimes needing to offload players before bringing others into the building.
“We only had minimal amounts to try to spend and when that was spent, it was because we had brought it in from somewhere else,” he added.
“Ali Al-Habsi went on loan to Wigan for a year – not because I wanted him to go out on loan, he was a really good goalkeeper. But we were managing to recoup a loan fee that we could use somewhere else.
“There were times where we signed players – they were good players but they were signed because we could wait a few years to pay those clubs.
“Phil (Gartside), God rest him, had great contacts with different clubs and because of that, they would give Bolton that ‘goodwill’. But at some point, you are still going to have to pay it.”
Following his Bolton exit, Coyle went on to have spells at Wigan, Blackburn, Houston Dynamo and Ross County among others.
He took charge of Indian outfit Chennaiyin over the summer. It is his second spell at the club, having also guided Jamshedpur to the Indian Super League Shield in 2022.
The former Wanderers boss singled out Gary Cahill as one of the most talented players he has ever worked with.
Cahill was an integral member of Coyle’s squad for a couple of years before he was snapped up by Chelsea.
The defender went on to enjoy success domestically and in Europe with the Blues, earning 61 England caps and representing the Three Lions at three major international tournaments.
“You always admire players from watching games but until you get to work with them on a daily basis, that is when you see their real qualities,” said Coyle.
“I knew Gary was a good player but when I got to work with him, he could have worked anywhere. He could have played centre-forward, his feet were (that good).”
The Scot also hailed the midfield pairing of Holden and Fabrice Muamba, who were “the perfect combination” in the middle of the pitch.
Coyle was in charge when Muamba famously collapsed during an FA Cup tie at Tottenham Hotspur, nearly losing his life. He admitted that night had a big impact on everyone at the club.
The former boss reminisced about the duo and believes they went “toe-to-toe” with the very best midfielders in English football at times.
“Stuart Holden would have been one of the best midfielders in the Premier League (if it wasn’t for injuries). That kid was sensational, I couldn’t replace Stuart like-for-like,” Coyle stated.
“Stuart and Fabrice was the perfect combination in midfield because Fabrice would go across the pitch, step into things and break things up.
“He could step forward when he needed to, and Stuart could go box-to-box all day. They worked in tandem.
“People talk about the big, big teams in the Premier League but Stuart and Fabrice stood toe-to-toe with the very best midfielders that season – your Lampards and Gerrards.
“When Stuart got injured, we tried two or three with Fabrice and just couldn’t replace the qualities he had.”
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