Jim White

Wigan will give Coyle the stable home he deserves

Jim White

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Welcome back Owen Coyle, you have been missed. Especially by Barclays.

Coyle was the man who, every time he was interviewed when manager of Burnley and Bolton Wanderers, name-checked the Premier League sponsors so promiscuously the only logical explanation was that he was on piece-work, getting a handy little payment for each mention.

“The Barclays Premier League,” he would say on an almost hourly basis, “is not an easy league. To win the Barclays Premier League, you’ve got to be the best team in the Barclays Premier League.” Kerrrrr-ching.

Now with this return to the management at the recently demoted Wigan Athletic, it will be npower who will be anticipating a sudden upsurge in their public recognition.

We will soon be hearing how “there is no such thing as an easy game in the npower Championship” and that “the npower Championship is the most competitive league in the world.”

Or at least, those who can be bothered to stay up to watch the Football League Show after Match of the Day will.

Still, let’s not cavil, it is a welcome return for a friendly, decent, intelligent boss. For a manager who was at one time tipped for the top, Coyle has been out of work for rather longer than might seem appropriate.

He was dismissed on 9 October last year, after his Bolton team sank to a dire defeat at Hull. In the eight months since, there have been at least half a dozen positions come up which you might have thought were well within his capabilities.

And indeed he might well have been approached about taking up the job at Blackburn, Blackpool or anywhere else Michael Appleton had just left. He says he was not short of offers. He just preferred not to take any up.

The fact he took so long before re-emerging tells us a lot about the working conditions of the modern game. There was simply no point him accepting a job just for the sake of being employed.

With so many fruitcake, trigger happy regimes in place in the country’s boardrooms, a manager has to be ever more careful about where he works. Especially a manager with ambition. Pick the wrong place and you can be one dumb-headed sacking from having your reputation shredded beyond repair.

And Wigan appears to be a good fit for a man of Coyle’s careerist expectation. The owner is a rarity. Dave Whelan likes to stick with a manager as long as he can, happy to reap the benefit of someone trying to make their mark.

There is a chance of lasting more than a couple of months at the DW. Which is more than can be said of the life expectancy in the dugout at Ewood.

The busy, intelligent and progressive Coyle is clearly made of the right stuff for management. Players like him, fans respond to his brand of football, chairmen need not fear imminent bankruptcy brought by his transfer demands.

But, after his unexpected failure at the Reebok, his margin for error, his room for manoeuvre was seriously compromised. Not that fans of Burnley will have much sympathy. In the stands at Turf Moor he is loathed with all the venom of the scorned lover.

Once they worshipped him, then he walked out on them for Bolton, a position, he claimed, that better suited his career goals. When that turned out to be somewhat compromised, the Burnley faithful hardly shed a tear.

But that is the way of the modern game. Fans can hardly expect loyalty when chairmen offer none to their most significant employees. Coyle’s purpose in moving to the Reebok was to further his career.

It was entirely selfish. But it was also understandable: why turn down a better offer to stay somewhere when you are going to be sacked soon enough anyway? This will be the thought passing through Andre Villas-Boas’s mind this summer as he faces persistent wooing from Paris Saint-Germain.

Villas-Boas is a thoroughly modern football manager: in his career as the main man at a club, he has yet to start a second full season in charge. If he moves from Spurs that pattern will continue.

But whose fault is that? When being sacked is an absolute career certainty, when every single club bar Arsenal in the top four divisions have now changed their manager at least once since June 2006 (and over half of them have done so in the last calendar year), who can blame those in work from keeping one step ahead of the P45?

There will soon be two types of football manager: those about to be sacked and those about to jump ship (what is known in the trade as “Doing a Bruce,” after Steve, the serial offender) before they can be sacked. But then, as Lou Reed put it so eloquently in another context: in football, you reap what you sow.

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