herald

Tuesday 13 November 2018

Coyle ready for his big adventure

Burnley boss thrilled to be leading Clarets on first season in Premier League but the man with Midas touch has big job ahead

YEARS ago when Owen Coyle was in his pomp and a regular in the headlines for hat-trick heroics, he was a handy phone call for football hacks with space to fill.

The only problem? His accent made it very difficult to understand a lot of what he was saying and while he was a great talker and a solid citizen, some of his best quotes were forever lost in translation.

He's changed that part of his image. Crisp and efficient with his comments and equally so in management style he's the bright young gaffer on a grand adventure with Burnley, with a thanks but no thanks for Dermot Desmond along the way.

Mixed in with the gene that is peculiar to Scottish managers is the Donegal bloodline Coyle inherited from his parents and that combination makes him box office for the next few months at least.

The fact that his international career lasted just seven minutes is neither here nor there. It's not as if we've had a cascade of Irish interest stories to spice up the Premier League season in recent years and Coyle's progress with Burnley has been significant.

At the time he got his cap, our interest in Coyle was obvious. The Republic of Ireland has never enjoyed a surfeit of strikers and up until Robbie Keane, scoring averages for our best poachers weren't great.

Coyle was a goal machine, but club football was always going to be his arena and through a combination of circumstances, the odd injury and John Aldridge, he never got the chance to do his thing on an international stage.

His one appearance came in Tilburg when he got seven minutes as a replacement for Tommy Coyne, then being groomed for a key role in Jack Charlton's plans for USA '94.



nOTHING

After that nothing, though the goals kept coming in club football as they had done throughout the previous eight years and would do for another six and more. Last season, he scored for the Burnley reserves after an emergency registration as a player, chipping a goal to help his club beat Accrington Stanley at the ripe old age of 42.

His enormous appetite for the game and remarkable fitness are the cornerstones of his newly won reputation as the manager to watch for the next 12 months. His ability to maintain a career as a striker over three decades shows a dedication and work ethic which is remarkable.

He is a religious man who has looked after himself. He doesn't drink and he is obviously not prone to excess. These are qualities that are often viewed with suspicion in the schoolyard environment of professional football, but Coyle is extraordinarily popular in Burnley and is fondly remembered at every club he graced.

Burnley fans were horrified when Celtic spotted an opportunity and asked for talks but Coyle's reputation was enhanced ten-fold when he declined and gave an honest explanation.

"I'm not going to pretend that I didn't think about it. I'm a Celtic fan. It's where I'm from, a big part of who I am, and of course with Celtic there's the chance of Champions League football. But then I looked at what we had built at Burnley, what we had achieved already, here on merit in the best league in the world. I thought of players I'd persuaded to be part of this, and in the end, I knew I had to stay and carry on this incredible adventure."

Every one of the 36,000 Burnley fans who turned up for the play-off final against Sheffield United wore Owen Coyle masks and the 'Owen Coyle is God' movement is growing by the day.

Celtic were right to try, but Coyle showed loyalty and a sense of romance that isn't easy to find in the hard-nosed world of the Premier League these days.

He is clearly ambitious and at each stage so far, clubs have bought him out of a contract. He's never been out of work as a manager and some already believe that he can rise very high indeed.

He will certainly be a candidate for the Republic of Ireland job at some point in the future and his work with Burnley will be followed closely by many on this side of the pond.

His record as a player began in Dumbarton in 1985 where he shared a team with Joe and Tommy Coyle, his brothers, before moving on to Clydebank and then Airdrieonians where he immediately set about creating records -- kicking off with a hat-trick on his debut. He topped the scoring charts that year.

Airdrie built an extraordinary run around his goals, winning promotion, a Scottish Cup final appearance and a European adventure in the then Cup Winners Cup.



TOP flight

He had a taste of the Premier League when he moved to Bolton and helped them into the top flight with another promotion, but he only lasted a couple of seasons and quickly returned to Scotland where he spent the rest of his career.

His promotion hat-trick was completed at Dundee United, followed by Motherwell, Dunfermline, Ross County and Falkirk where the first sign that he might have a future as a manager emerged.

He was appointed player manager alongside John Hughes in 2003 but moved on quickly and had a few more seasons as a player before he was installed as St Johnstone boss. He's never looked back since.

Within months of his appointment, he once again found himself accepting pieces of silverware from sponsors, but this time it was for the performance of his team. In his first season, St Johnstone beat Rangers at Ibrox for the first time in 35 years, got to the semi-finals of the Scottish League Cup and Scottish FA Cup and came agonisingly close to promotion to the SPL.

It wasn't long before clubs in England began to take note of a straight-talking ex-striker who seemed to have imported his Midas touch in front of goal into his career as a manager. Burnley came calling, Coyle stepped into shoes vacated by Steve Cotterill and the graph has been rising steadily.

He has a huge job in front of him now, though.

Remember, he's only been running the show for four years and while he has shown a remarkable aptitude for managing footballers and comfortably handling the media side of things, this is the Premier League and better men than him have been beaten down by the pressure.

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