Monday 19 March 2018

Coyle has what it takes to reach the top

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

WHEN Owen Coyle was growing up in the infamous Gorbals area of Glasgow, he inherited the unenviable job of delivering the local paper-round.

Clambering up four blocks of 23 floors was all part of the character-building experience, which has transformed the 43-year-old into a man who makes the headlines. And, perhaps, a future Ireland manager.

His upbringing in a tough area largely populated by immigrants from these shores taught him the values of hard work, an ethos which he carried through a football career largely spent at the greasy-spoon cafe level of the British game.

In Scotland, he never quite made it to the top table, with Celtic sceptical about his ability before Bolton, the club he now seems certain to manage, brought him to England for a two-year spell that enhanced his reputation.

Sandwiched in the middle of that stint was his lone senior cap for Ireland, a substitute's appearance against Holland in a pre-World Cup friendly in 1994. He replaced Tommy Coyne, the scorer of the only goal in that victory and a man with a similar career profile. The debutant didn't do enough to book a ticket for the United States.

Now, management looks set to bring Coyle to the heights that eluded him as a player.


The process of developing into a rising star of the dug-out started properly with St Johnstone, in the Scottish First Division, a level which he was familiar with. It soon became clear that he possessed the man-management and tactical skills to move up the ranks.

Last year, on these pages, he stressed that his upbringing in the old Gorbals had prepared him for the rigours of what life had to offer and he made it clear that his Irish affinities are far stronger than is the case with some other one-cap wonders -- even if he recently spoke in terms of 'we' when describing Scotland's World Cup qualifier with Macedonia.

"Where we lived in the Gorbals was called 'Little Donegal' because it was very much an Irish community," he said. "We are a very tight-knit family. The area has got a bad rap but I never found it tough because it was what I was used to.

"A lot of management is social skills, and growing up in the Gorbals you learn that. There's no doubt you have to fight your corner at times and stand up for yourself, but I grew up with that in the house.

"You scrap with your brothers (he has five elder brothers) every day and you might even get a couple of slaps off your sister. I wouldn't have swapped it for the world. The people I grew up with are still friends to this day. My mum is still in the Gorbals."

Celtic were his team, and it was difficult for Coyle to turn them down in the summer, but the offer highlights the extent to which his stock has grown. His refusal shows that the Premier League is the place to be.

The status of the Premier League is also the reason why it would be stretching it to suggest that he is a candidate to be Ireland's next manager.

The FAI are unlikely to be in a position to hand out another €2m-a-year contract when Giovanni Trapattoni goes. And to attract a current Premier League manager, you'd need to be offering more than €2m. It could be a long time before he's within Ireland's reach, unless his star wanes over the next couple of seasons.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if this fascinating character can repeat the success he has enjoyed at close-knit clubs with Bolton, a team that desperately needs to build some kind of togetherness after a fractured couple of years since the departure of Sam Allardyce.

Coyle bucks a traditional Irish-Scots stereotype by being tee-total.

"The only time I came close (to drinking) was when I was invited to Switzerland with Celtic for an U-20 tournament as a possible signing," he recalled recently.

"There were 16 of us and we were allowed out for the night. Derek Whyte, the captain, ordered 16 halves and I said, 'I don't drink, Derek'. He insisted that I should have one but I'm quite strong-minded so I said I'd have a Coke instead. I didn't care if I lost face -- the bottom line was I didn't drink and nobody would encourage me to do otherwise."

His teams also buck a lower-division stereotype by consistently delivering an expansive style of football. Yet it's the inter-personal skills that his admirers focus on first and foremost.

"He listens to players and what they've got to say," said Jason McAteer, a former Bolton team-mate, yesterday. "And he's always got advice.

"I've seen him get angry but he's not a bawler and he's not a screamer. He's not a threatening person but he's got a great will to win -- someone you want to play with, and someone you don't want to disappoint."

McAteer recently partnered Coyle in an Irish side at a Masters Tournament and, on his last visit to Dublin, the man of the moment took part in a Legends game where he donned the green shirt and spoke passionately about his disappointment in the manner that his Burnley protege, Dubliner Chris McCann, has been overlooked by Trapattoni.

"When, and if he is picked, he won't let anybody down," said Coyle.

McCann will play for Ireland one day and, in the considerably longer term, it would be no surprise to see Coyle end up as manager.

For now, however, the reality is that he's got bigger fish to fry.

Irish Independent

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