DAMNED in Burnley as a 'Judas' and revered in Bolton as a 'legend', Owen Coyle completed a strange kind of homecoming yesterday by confessing to crying as he left Turf Moor.
The nine days between Gary Megson's dismissal as Bolton manager and Coyle's installation as his successor last Friday proved a strain for the 43-year-old Glaswegian who, after 26 months with Burnley, chose to return to the club with whom he spent two and a half years as a player in the mid-1990s.
Feted as a hero in Burnley after ending the club's 33-year exile from the top flight via the Championship play-offs last May, Coyle has been hurt by the ferocity of the condemnation emanating from east Lancashire.
The 'Judas' insult has hurt more than most. Having rejected a life-changing salary to manage boyhood favourites Celtic last summer, Coyle did not expect his name to become mud so quickly by trading Burnley for Bolton, who are due to meet at the Reebok on January 26.
"Whoever used that term, be it websites or newspapers, I can't do anything about," Coyle said. "Even the local newspaper had a front page with a headline that said 'Betrayed'.
"I can understand that people are hurt and disappointed. It's such an emotional game, but there was nobody more emotional than me about leaving the football club last week.
"The day I decided to leave was horrible and I was crying as I left. The chairman was too. It really pulled at your heart strings.
"But when I came into that club in the Championship, I was probably in the bottom three, if not at the very bottom, in terms of salary. If it was about money, I'd have gone to Celtic in the summer when I could have trebled or quadrupled my salary.
"The best way to put it is that this (Bolton) is probably five or 10 years ahead of what we were trying to achieve at Burnley."
Having scored 23 goals in 78 appearances for Bolton under Bruce Rioch between 1993 and 1995, Coyle's recent billing as a club legend suggests a touch of revisionism at the Reebok.
Yet Coyle's affection for the club is clear. He participated in a promotion campaign and a run to the 1995 League Cup final, but the club he returns to are a different outfit entirely to that which he left behind. Burnden Park has gone and Sam Allardyce's success at the Reebok has raised the bar to almost unreachable levels. Tellingly, Allardyce spent eight years at the helm, yet Coyle is Bolton's third manager since Allardyce left in April 2007.
Bolton chairman Phil Gartside said: "The average lifespan of a manager is about two years now, so it was exceptional that Sam stayed here for more than seven.
"We'd like Owen to stay for more than that. Things evolve and change. Sam chose to leave. I didn't ask him to leave."
Allardyce's shadow continues to loom large, however. His success fuelled the supporters' frustrations with the failure of Sammy Lee and Gary Megson to measure up, but Coyle is unfazed by the Allardyce legacy.
"In terms of Manchester United and Chelsea, this is not a huge club, but it has parity with the rest of the established Premier League clubs," Coyle said.
"(Emulating Allardyce) is a tall order for anybody, particularly when you look at the top four and then beyond that, with Manchester City, Tottenham and Aston Villa, who are all improving no end.
"But nobody would have given us a chance of getting Burnley to the Premier League given the budget we had.
"Anything is possible. What you have to make sure you do is work hard enough to achieve it." (© Daily Telegraph, London)