Owen Coyle’s decision to ditch Burnley for Bolton has left me bewildered. Not only has he abandoned Turf Moor with the job undeniably half finished, he has moved to a club that are also fighting to stay in the league. Coyle has worked miracles and some would say that the fans should just be thankful for the success he has brought to them, but he owes Burnley just as much as they owe him.
Before taking over the Lancashire club he was manager of St. Johnstone and was barely known south of the border. Fast forward two years and Celtic made Coyle their number one target to replace Gordon Strachan. When George Burley was axed as Scottish manager Coyle was again being talked up. Coyle would not have received this interest had it not been for the gamble taken by Burnley chairman Barry Kilby, and yet now he walks away from Turf Moor.
How is Coyle happy to leave Kilby and his team? If Burnley were bottom and Bolton were doing well you could perhaps see the logic but this is the man who, when Celtic came calling, signed an extension to his contract reported to stretch to 2012. Do contracts mean anything anymore? If I was a Burnley fan I would be fuming. Coyle has left Burnley high and dry, and for what? Do Bolton necessarily have a higher chance of staying in the Premier League? I would vouch that the answer to that question is no. Coyle disagrees, with the suggestion being Bolton’s increased transfer budget gives him the resources to remain a Premiership manager. This leads us to the crux of the argument: ambition. Coyle has left Burnley to further his own career, and he is not the only one.
Gone are the days of one club players. Players like Matt Le Tissier and Steve Bull ignored the interests of bigger clubs in favour of playing for their team. You might suggest someone like John Terry will go on to play for Chelsea until his career ceases but this is the same John Terry who was remarkably quiet when Manchester City showed interest in him over the summer. Terry could easily have come out and said he wasn’t interested in leaving the Bridge, but no, ‘Captain Fantastic’ chose instead to keep quiet, holding Chelsea to ransom so that they increased his ever growing wage packet.
Another footballer guilty of lacking loyalty is England’s left back Ashley Cole. Often called “Cashley” by the tabloids, Cole describes the moment his agent told him of Arsenal’s offer of a new contract: “When I heard my agent repeat the figure of £55,000 [per week], I nearly swerved off the road. “He’s taking the piss, Jonathan!” I yelled down the phone. I was trembling with anger”.
Now the money argument can effectively be removed this argument. Maybe he deserved more money from the Gunners but Cole was a local boy who had been at the club from a young age. Why was his focus on earning more? Should it not have been on improving his game and helping to bring more silverware to his local club? Cole is not evil, as many people would suggest, but he is, like Terry, just a product of his time. It is deeply engrained in footballers that ambition means more money, bigger clubs, a bit more money and maybe if they can swing it a bit more money. Football is now a business. A business where agents have so much sway that the players are just pawns.
So what do fans make of this lack of loyalty? Essentially there is no longer the anger there previously was. When the want away Joleon Lescott eventually got his wish and arrived at Man City, Everton fans were not surprised. There were no cries of Judas like there were for Sol Campbell. Arsenal fans might boo Ashley Cole but Chelsea and Liverpool fans are happy to forget Terry and Gerrard’s respective misdemeanours. We now expect this lack of loyalty; to recycle an old phrase, it is part and parcel of football. However, call me old fashioned, I would prefer to go back to an age where players stuck with their local teams. It would be nice if a player kissing a badge or signing a contract actually meant something.
As it is, it’s all empty and meaningless because these players and managers are now businessmen and they make decisions fuelled by ambition and greed. How sad. My hope is come Sunday 9th May we see a Burnley side remaining in the Premier League and we see Owen Coyle’s Bolton heading down to the Championship. It would be a victory for loyalty.