Of course it had to happen

Last updated : 08 February 2010 By Dave Thomas

For many of us he has left under a cloud, for even though we realised that his talent would take him further than Burnley, and we knew we would struggle to keep him; the way he left in mid-season, to a club that can hardly be described as a 'big' club, has left many of us feeling let down and shaking our heads.

He will be remembered - but how? As the man who revitalised the club with his energy, his approach, his enthusiasm, his articulacy and achievements? Or as the man who deserted and quit at the worst time of the season, tempted by the poaching and tapping-up process that is so prevalent in the game? Some might say that this process is how he arrived at Burnley in the first place but this might not be quite true if Brendan Flood 's book is correct, that Coyle himself alerted Burnley to his interest in the Burnley vacancy, via an email to Flood from journalist Alan Nixon.

The move to Bolton was pre-empted by the news in the media that he was wanted there. It went on for a week. He must have known he was first choice. Forgive me if I am wrong, but it is not reasonable to suppose that dialogue and sounding-out took place during that week, probably via third parties. Is this not the way things work in this game?

Then by the end of the weekend of January 2nd, texts were flying around that the move was a done deal and that this info was in fact coming via people who worked at the Mirror. Alan Nixon at the Mirror goes back a fair way with Coyle. Whenever Nixon came out with something about Coyle we knew it was generally correct. On Monday the 4th Nixon announced that Coyle would indeed quit Burnley for Bolton. That night Coyle met Chairman Kilby having already had talks with Gartside. The move was as good as confirmed 48 hours later.

So, how will he be remembered?

I remember Coyle, Wembley and May for two reasons. Firstly the win over Sheffield United was one of the greatest days in the life of any Burnley fan. For that, we adored Coyle. He won us over. He projected honour, integrity, honesty, the man of the people still aware of his roots and up-bringing. He had taken a bunch of players who were underachieving, dull, listless, and stifled. He gave them a new playing style, belief, self-respect, a new lease of life. Many of the players, then miraculously took Burnley to the Premiership under Coyle. It was astonishing and the tears flowed at Wembley. The football world marvelled. "Doing a Burnley" became the new ambition for all little clubs.

We will remember the brand of attacking football, the play-to-win mentality, the refreshing attitudes and we appreciated that here was a man who was building a 'brand', rebuilding the youth policy; bringing in young hungry players, and was clearly influencing and developing the whole club from top to bottom.

But, the second reason I remember Wembley and May is that it was immediately afterwards when a little warning bell first rang in my head about Owen Coyle. Celtic wanted him as manager and no matter how he was questioned as to his intentions; his skilled evasiveness (though he himself might argue that he is not evasive) was that of a politician and in my other life I learned to be just slightly wary of people who had what we might call - the gift of the gab. He gave a master class in not answering the question about his intentions - and it was asked several times, even on the Town Hall balcony when it was put to him by the spinmeister himself - Alastair Campbell.

And it was the same this time. As soon as the possibility emerged that he might well be approached by Bolton, out came the smokescreens. There was talk of the privilege of being the Burnley manager, that he was happy here, proud to be Burnley boss… in fact he was VERY happy here. And then at MK Dons when he ducked the Press afterwards out came assistant Sandy Stewart to say, "We love it here, we think we are taking the club forward and that's all we're interested in." And how often did we hear the word "speculation."

What a hollow ring those words have now; I've re-read them several times - "we think we are taking the club forward and that's all we are interested in."

I am sure all of us who are fair-minded, will be forever grateful to Owen Coyle for the magic carpet ride we have been on. The word 'magic' is not out of place. There are memories that will last indelibly. There have been moments of sheer ecstacy and unbridled joy, not to mention pride. Think of Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and the minute we were away from a Carling Cup Final; then there was Reading and so many others. Dreams came true thanks to this man. A town was reborn. Its name flashed round the world. Think of the thousands and thousands of people, whose smiles would have lit the universe, as they lined the streets of a united Burnley to greet the team. At that moment in time Coyle was an idol. He was Burnley.

Wembley saved the club from real and crippling financial problems. You could argue that the club is £60million better off thanks to Owen Coyle. And at the end of the day there we were in the Premiership and we owed it to him.

But even as a rational man, doing my best to be objective and logical, I still felt so let down when final confirmation came and he himself at last came out in the open and said he wanted to leave; even felt stabbed in the back maybe, no, that's too dramatic, but kicked in the teeth might be apt. It unavoidably diminished my gratitude and respect for the man. "A silver-tongued charmer," one radio caller labelled him. For this was a work in progress. The season was only halfway through; the worst time of year to leave a club in the lurch, to quit, to desert. How can any man leave in such a way? Where is loyalty and honour in all this? Is there any in the modern game? Or, the nearer you get to the top, does it completely disappear? He made people believe in him, they gave their hearts to him, and then he walked out. Maybe we could understand it better if it was to a so-called 'big' club, an Aston Villa, an Everton, a West Ham maybe. We would certainly have accepted it and wished him well, without batting an eyelid, had it been at the end of the season - whatever our position had been.

The one thing it does do is to emphasise, as if we didn't know already, that we are in the great scheme of things a 'little' club. Premiership we may be but 'big' club no. And however well we do, in fact the better we do, other clubs will circle us like vultures and more or less take what they want. Who next - Eagles, Caldwell, Mears, Fletcher maybe, for that would be the worst cut of all, if Coyle came back to plunder the best players. What it also shows is how meaningless contracts are, or, how loaded they are in favour of the employee.

"I won't let you down," he told Brendan Flood receiving the news he had been appointed. Leaving at this point in the season, that is exactly what he has done.

Ah well. We thank Owen Coyle for the ride. Of course we are grateful. It was terrific while it lasted. But a part of me thinks less of him than I did before the bruhaha started. The club history books when they write about his time at Burnley, and maybe it might be me who writes them, will say good things about him and the miracle of Wembley that was very much his doing. But at the same time they will point to a man who was prepared to desert the club in mid-season, at the worst possible time.