He took a salary drop five times to play on

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

OWEN Coyle was 19 the first and only time he tasted al­co­hol. A ris­ing star with Dum­bar­ton, he had been in­vited to tour Switzer­land with Celtic’s U21s.

“The cap­tain, Derek Whyte, took us out one evening and or­dered 18 half-pints of lager,” he said. “I’d never been a drinker, never wanted to. It wasn’t on my agenda.

“But I didn’t want to rock the boat so I took a small sip. It tasted hor­ri­ble, and so I said ‘Look Whitey, drink­ing is against my prin­ci­ples, I’ll just have a coke’. And that’s what I did.”

And that has al­ways been the Wi­gan man­ager’s way – prin­ci­pled, out­spo­ken and avowedly dif­fer­ent.

A tee­to­taller in an age when the pub was a sec­ond home. A de­vout Chris­tian who took his fam­ily to visit the Pope. A man who played not for se­cu­rity but for the sheer joy of be­ing a foot­baller.

“I've never been mo­ti­vated by money,” said Coyle, a striker who won five pro­mo­tions with Air­drieo­ni­ans, Bolton Wan­der­ers, Dundee United, Falkirk and Air­drie.

“I dropped salary five times in my ca­reer be­cause I wanted to play. I used to play in the street un­til my mum called us in. I played un­til I was 40 be­cause they were the best days of my life. And if I wasn’t tak­ing part in train­ing now I’d be pay­ing a fiver to play five-aside.”

One of nine chil­dren who grew up in the in­fa­mous Gor­bels area of Glas­gow, Coyle took in­spi­ra­tion from his fa­ther, who ar­rived from Ire­land at 15 to work on the roads.

It was Coyle snr who in­stilled pride and work ethic, who or­dered his youngest son to prac­tice with his weaker right foot un­til it was as good as his left.

The re­sult was a driven young man who knew he wasn’t the fastest, the strong­est or the best but who be­lieved that hard graft and a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude would com­pen­sate.

Per­son­al­ity

“I max­imised ev­ery­thing I had, be­cause to play at the level I man­aged to, with my physique, should have been near im­pos­si­ble,” he says. “But I made sure I was supremely fit, that I could score a goal. I used the best of my abil­i­ties and I do that as a man­ager.”

Fel­low Scot John McGin­lay was Coyle’s clos­est friend at Bolton and says the 47-year-old’s great­est at­tribute was his in­fec­tious per­son­al­ity.

“Owen was al­ways the bub­bly char­ac­ter in the dress­ing room,” he re­calls. “He al­ways had some­thing to say, even if it got him into trou­ble at times.

“But he is a mo­ti­va­tor and an en­thu­si­ast. He just rubs off on peo­ple. He was smil­ing all of the time and even when he was dropped he would be the one go­ing round and gee­ing the lads up, rais­ing their spir­its. I know that in­side he was hurt­ing but he would never let any­one know.”

“In per­son, he seems so easy­go­ing but he is one of the most de­ter­mined men I have ever met. He would go to the limit for you as a player and brings that out in his play­ers. I knew the mo­ment I met him that he would be a man­ager.”

Af­ter a brief stint at Falkirk as player-man­ager along­side John Hughes, Coyle made his mark in the dugout at St John­stone, lay­ing the foun­da­tions for a pro­mo­tion that came un­der suc­ces­sor Derek McInnes be­fore leav­ing for Burn­ley in 2007.

A rev­e­la­tion at Turf Moor, he led the un­fan­cied Clarets to the semi-fi­nals of the League Cup and pro­mo­tion to the Pre­mier League in 2009.

Though he would leave to join Bolton in ac­ri­mo­nious cir­cum­stances mid­way through the sea­son (for which he re­mains a hate fig­ure in Burn­ley to­day) it was a re­mark­able achieve­ment.

“He achieved enor­mous suc­cess at a club with­out the re­sources of many Cham­pi­onship sides,” says McInnes, a close friend who man­aged Bris­tol City last term.

“But it didn’t sur­prise me. He cre­ates a good work­ing en­vi­ron­ment and he is in­fec­tious and en­thu­si­as­tic. Cre­at­ing the right at­mos­phere around a club is ar­guably his big­gest strength.”

What did sur­prise ev­ery­one was rel­e­ga­tion from the Pre­mier League and a sur­pris­ing slump to 18th in the Cham­pi­onship that saw Coyle sacked by Bolton in Oc­to­ber last year.

In­juries, bad luck and the near fa­tal heart-at­tack of Fabrice Muamba all played their part in Bolton’s trou­bles, but it was widely per­ceived as the first time Coyle’s golden touch had de­serted him – that his en­thu­si­asm had worn off.

Yet Wi­gan chief Dave Whe­lan, who chose Coyle to re­place the Ever­ton-bound Roberto Martinez, isn’t wor­ried.

“Of all the can­di­dates who ap­plied, he was far and away the best,” he said.

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Im­ages

IN WITH A SHOUT: Owen Coyle will bid to get Wi­gan in the pro­mo­tion mix

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