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Jan 7, 2010

Burnley left sick after Coyle exit

From Pigbag to pig sick, Burnley fans now know what it feels like to have your manager leave home and shack up with the neighbours. No longer will the regulars at Turf Moor be able to sing Owen Coyle's name to the tune of that 80s anthem, which is a shame for them but a blessing for anybody not of a claret and blue persuasion who had to sit there and endure one of football's more irritating choruses since the Scot ventured south from St Johnstone to deepest Lancashire just over two years ago.

Coyle has achieved so much in that short space of time, it is easy to see why managerless Bolton came calling for his services, even if it will cost them £3 million in compensation. That will be small change if the 43-year-old succeeds in keeping them in the Premier League. Quite where it leaves Burnley is another matter altogether, and that is what will pain their supporters the most.

Those who have countered the predictable "Judas" posts on internet message boards in recent days by pointing out that Coyle took the club to almost unimaginable heights, will have their understanding tested to the limit if he keeps Bolton up at Burnley's expense this season.

Having earned himself almost God-like status in those parts for guiding the Clarets to promotion in May, how ironic it would be if he had a hand in sending them straight back down again? It will be interesting to see what reception awaits Coyle when Burnley visit Bolton in three weeks' time. A pig's head rather than Pigbag perhaps?

That was just one of the objects thrown at Luis Figo when he faced Barcelona after leaving the club to join arch-rivals Real Madrid, and Coyle is in danger of touching another raw nerve here with supporters not known for their sensitive side. It is an area the likes of Harry Redknapp know only too well, although 'Arry really pushed his luck by leaving Portsmouth for Southampton and then going back again.

Of course, the anger fans feel over a departing manager or player is usually a reflection of how much they value them, and there is no question how important Coyle has been for Burnley, rightly earning a reputation as one of the brightest young managers in the game.

He took a team that achieved little under Stan Ternent and Steve Cotterill, added a handful of decent but uninspiring new signings, and took them into the Premier League. Not only did he do it on one of the smallest budgets in the Championship, he did so by playing attractive football.

Coyle has stuck by his principles in the top flight, even though many predict that Burnley will be this season's West Brom; a team destined to go straight back down again having won many admirers but not enough points.

They might yet be proved right. After a magnificent start, built almost entirely on their form at home, Burnley are hardly flying at the moment. A run of nine games without a win in the league - including defeats to West Ham and Portsmouth - has seen them slide down the table. Significantly, they lie just two points ahead of Bolton having played two games more. Now is the worst possible time for their manager to bail out, although Coyle might take a different view.

There is little doubt his successor will inherit a team missing the early-season momentum and feel-good factor that saw Manchester United memorably beaten at Turf Moor and Burnley propelled into the top half of the table.

Of the names currently in the frame, none will fill the club's supporters with much hope. Appointing Paulo Sousa would appear to be a recipe for disaster. Fancy foreigners may work for Manchester City, but Burnley? Sousa has never managed in the Premier League, and although he is doing a creditable job at Swansea, he hardly showered himself in glory during five turbulent months at QPR.

Manchester United assistant Mike Phelan has emerged as an interesting option, and the knowledge he has gathered alongside Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford would be of benefit to any club. But Phelan is also unproven as a manager and any scepticism would be justified considering the history of assistants failing to make it on their own. Ferguson's former number two, Brian Kidd, was an unmitigated disaster down the M65 at Blackburn, and Bolton themselves were left counting the cost of allowing Sammy Lee to step up and succeed Sam Allardyce when he left the Reebok.

It is perhaps a sign of the lack of genuine candidates out there that Paul Jewell appears to be Burnley's best option at the moment. Jewell also took an unfashionable north-west club into the Premier League and was able to keep Wigan there, even if it needed a dramatic last-day escape at Sheffield United that proved to be his last act before quitting. However, his critics will point to an awful spell in charge at Derby where Jewell's biggest failing was not so much in taking the club down as a pathetic attempt to get them back up again.

Burnley fans will be hoping other contenders raise their hands in the days ahead if their club is to stay out the relegation battle. But they would be mistaken if they thought Coyle has it any easier at Bolton, who comfortably avoided the drop last season but find themselves deep in trouble.

How the former Wanderers striker adapts to his new squad, and they to him, will be very interesting to see. Can he impose his passing game on a set of players who have become so accustomed to the direct style favoured by Allardyce and Gary Megson, knocking it long and battling for the second ball? How will he use captain Kevin Davies, a pivotal figure in that strategy and an influential character at the Reebok?

Of course, Coyle has money to spend on new players in the transfer window that was not available to him at Burnley, although still significantly less than many Premier League clubs. It remains to be seen whether the deal agreed between Bolton and Burnley prohibits him from returning to Turf Moor to bid for players he knows only too well are the lowest-paid in the Premier League.

Such a move would further infuriate Burnley fans, but at least Coyle, unlike Megson, can be reassured he is a popular appointment among his new club's supporters. They will welcome him with open arms in the hope he can mastermind a revival every bit as dramatic as the one he engineered at Turf Moor.

Coyle, a pragmatic and down-to-earth character who was happy to drive his wife's Volkswagen Beetle into training and park it next to Chris Eagles' Lamborghini, does not need to be told he is taking a huge gamble.

It is a move he feels he has to make at this stage of his career. A step up, albeit a small one. So is the man from Paisley destined to join the long line of great Scottish managers, or just another Jewell who worked his magic at one club only to see it desert him at the next? Either way, the majority of Burnley fans will struggle to forgive him for this vanishing act.

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