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Aug 14, 2006

Big Sam aims for more of the same

Ask anyone who has done the best job in managing a Premiership side over the past few years and you'll probably find that one name appears more regularly than the others. No, not Arsene Wenger, not even Sir Alex Ferguson. Jose Mourinho? All great managers, but look no further than 'Big' Sam Allardyce if you are looking for someone who has had a real effect on their club.

After dragging Bolton up from the depths of the First Division in 2001, Allardyce finished his first Premiership season at the club in 16th place, maintaining their top flight status after having flirted with top spot in the opening games of the season. Since then he's enjoyed success after success, with only the achievement of silverware proving a bridge too far.

Since 2003/04 Bolton have become fixtures in the top half to the table, no longer having to worry about the magical 40-point barrier to avoid relegation, they owe a lot to their passionate ex-player.

Having narrowly missed out on a UEFA Cup place, and buoyed by a good run in the competition a year earlier, Allardyce will be keen to get his team back into Europe again. After such a run, the club will be looking to build on what was a comparably disappointing domestic campaign.

Bolstered by the news that assistant manager Sammy Lee has spurned the call of the England U-21 job to focus and remain 'totally committed' to the Bolton cause, the club are well positioned to repeat their recent ascent of the Premiership.

Allardyce has an excellent record in the transfer market. Bringing the likes of Ivan Campo, Jay-Jay Okocha, El Hadji Diouf and Youri Djorkaeff to the club for next to nothing has kept a down-to-earth atmosphere at the club. There are no stars, everyone plays for the team.

As Stelios has discovered, 'Big Sam' is not a man to be crossed, and commands the full respect of his players. This is what has led the team from potential relegation to mid-table stability over the last few years.

The Reebok's over-30 brigade have used every inch of their experience to cement their Premiership status and have seen many players come and go during Allardyce's tenure. This year they will again be relying on the guile of their manager to bring in some big names for small transfer fees.

The main priority remains a recognised goalscorer and having dealt with the disappointment of losing out on Crystal Palace's Andy Johnson, who chose Everton to try and resurrect his international career, Bolton will be on the lookout for a potent finisher.

With Jared Borgetti on his way out and El Hadji Diouf struggling with injuries and temperament, one possibility is Fenerbahce's moody Frenchman Nicolas Anelka who has proved himself to be a capable goalscorer when he's not throwing a tantrum.

Bolton would have broken the bank for Johnson, as they matched Everton's bid of £8.6 million, but the disappointment of missing out on the talented hitman will soon be forgotten if the money is better spent elsewhere.

The signing and subsequent sale of Dietmar Hamann from Liverpool proved an incredible piece of business for the club who made a reported £700,000 on a player who spent less than 24 hours in their company before deciding to sign for Manchester City instead.

Already fully signed up are the strong Ivorian defender Abdoulaye Meite from Marseille, who rejected the allure of Newcastle to play under Allardyce, and Manchester United utility man Quinton Fortune. After impressing at the African Cup of Nations, and also at the World Cup in June, Meite will replace the out of contract Bruno N'Gotty and the Birmingham-bound Radhi Jaidi, in the centre of defence, and there could be more new arrivals on the horizon.

A recent failed bid for Argentinean left-back Juan Pablo Sorin may see Allardyce having to work day and night to bring new faces into the threadbare squad before the transfer window closes.

And replacing the inspirational Jay Jay Okotcha in midfield, may prove to be an even trickier task. Having endured a difficult season, Okotcha was deemed surplus to requirements for the coming campaign and has signed for Qatari side Sports Club after being released from the Reebok.

His presence at the club he helped to turn around can not be understated and Allardyce may have to stretch his purse strings to find an adequate replacement.

At least in Kevin Nolan, Bolton know that they have another, albeit different, presence to dominate the midfield. Their combative captain was unlucky to miss out on Sven's plane to Germany after an exceptional season where he top scored with 9 goals, and will be anxious to prove to the McClaren management team that he has what it takes to play at an international level.

Nolan embodies the type of football that Bolton love to play. Branded 'ugly' by various pundits, no-one can argue with the success that Allardyce's tactics have brought about. In a similar mould to Blackburn, quick closing down and tenacious tackling make Bolton a tough prospect for any side to face. Something Arsenal have learnt to their cost over the past few seasons.

With the belief and determination to succeed that Allardyce instils in his players, another top half finish looks likely for the club. European qualification would be a bonus, but with Bolton's rapid rise up the table and Allardyce's reputation growing by the game, it's now almost an expectation.