By Gareth Hopkins
Bolton Wanderers, I’m sure, are through their ‘bad patch’. Owen Coyle (photo) is more than capable of rejuvenating a squad that were once a real nuisance in the Premier League. Indeed, under the tenure of Sam Allardyce, Bolton was a very tricky place to go and get 3 points – Arsenal, in particular, found it difficult at the Reebok Stadium. In fact, under Allardyce, Bolton even qualified for the UEFA Cup in 2005/2006 and 2007/2008; an outstanding achievement for a team that has spent under £80 million in the transfer market since the inception of the EPL – nowadays, that will get you ONE Cristiano Ronaldo. However, the question Bolton fans will now be asking is can Coyle reach the same heights?
It would appear, like Allardyce, Coyle has been shrewd in the transfer market. Coyle has spent nothing pre-season, thus far, and has bagged several quality signings including Ivan Klasnic. Bolton were desperate for a striker with much reliance on the aging Kevin Davies (33). Although Klasnic is not a prolific scorer, as such, at 30 he has a wealth of experience that includes a German Cup Winners medal and Champions League football with Werder Bremen. Prior to his loan spell last season, where he was very popular with the Bolton fans, Klasnic played for Nantes in Ligue 1. It is therefore clear that Klasnic is comfortable playing most places on the continent and, permitting he stays injury free, could have an important role for the Trotters.
Another interesting signing for Bolton is the former Real Madrid left-back Marcos Alonso. Alonso struggled to break in to the Madrid first team and is keen for first XI football – which he should get at Bolton. However, my concern is how a left-back, with very little senior experience, is going to cope with the physicality of the Premier League. In comparison to most other positions, it seems that defenders get better with age which, for Alonso, would suggest a massive learning curve ahead of him. Don’t be surprised if Alonso has a slow start to life in the EPL but I expect a graduate of the Real Madrid camp to be educated efficiently and, once familiar with the pace of the EPL, should settle in nicely.
Martin Petrov on a free transfer, for me, is signing of the season. The Bulgarian fell off the radar whilst at Manchester City as they continue with their profusion of unnecessary signings. However Petrov, in just 16 starts, scored 7 goals and made 6 assists for Manchester city last year – impressive statistics. The brilliant crossing ability of Martin Petrov will be welcomed by Kevin Davies who is clinical in the air.
The only unsure signing, for me, is Robbie Blake. If Bolton are aspiring to finish in the top half of the EPL then Blake seems like an obscure signing. I can only think that Coyle has a tight friendship with Robbie Blake and has ‘rescued’ him from Championship football in the closing years of his career – he is 34 years old. Indeed, Coyle managed Blake at Burnley but, I’m sure, he will not play as much at Bolton. Nevertheless, Blake will be a stern head at the Reebok and will pass on much experience to those within the Bolton first XI. Sometimes, I suppose, it is difficult to put a price on team-cohesion and morale-boosting – undoubtedly, there is more to this signing than playing ability.
With the astute signings made by Coyle and his ability to work with limited resources, Bolton could be a decent outside bet to qualify for European football this season and re-live the ‘Allardyce Days’. Keep an eye out for these underdogs.