Under Owen Coyle, Bolton Wanderers are growing as a team and shedding their image of a route one side while still maintaining the strength and solidity they were renowned for under Sam Allardyce.
The 2011/2012 season will be a new challenge for Coyle however as his second full season in charge will bring with it a host of new questions and expectations for the team. In his first season, the former Ireland international took over from the much derided Gary Megson and went on to finish a respectable 14th position in the league. Despite the improved play and the fans appeased by the style of football, Bolton finished in the same 14th position last season and this summer’s transfer market may prove vital in Bolton’s hopes for this year.
Last season’s top-scorer Johan Elmander has already moved to Galatasaray on a free transfer after his contract came to an end and Daniel Sturridge has returned to Chelsea after his loan deal expired. Elmander and Sturridge both weighed in with the majority of Bolton’s goals amongst the club’s strikers as Elmander’s good play finally began to become fruitful with an end product, scoring 10 goals, and Sturridge’s short spell included eight goals in 12 games.
Sturridge scored the same amount of league goals as club captain Kevin Davies after appearing in only a third of the amount of games as Davies. Owen Coyle has expressed his interest in signing another striker and it looks as if Bolton will badly need one or the main question hanging over Wanderers for the whole season will be where the goals are going to come from.
Kevin Davies is an important part of the team and often underrated in what he does for the side on the pitch but the classic centre forward does not contribute enough goals to be able to rely on for a successful season.
Coyle is in a difficult position in reinforcing his squad; especially in the striker department as Bolton don’t have the finances to make big name signings. This is one of the reasons he was brought in from Burnley however, and Bolton have been linked with a few names. Former Stoke forward Tuncay Sanli, now plying his trade at Wolfsburg, is a reported target of a possible season-long deal for Bolton and it has also been made apparent that Coyle is trying to recapture Sturridge from Chelsea, although that looks increasingly unlikely.
It doesn’t help Bolton’s position when their record-signing leaves for free and as of this moment the club has only two recognised senior strikers in Davies and Croatian Ivan Klasnic, who scored just 12 goals between them last season. It looks like if there are any deals to be done for Coyle, it may be the case of chancing his arm on a player from the Championship or taking a risk on a striker who seems to be past his best.
Injuries have affected other parts of the team including new signing Tyrone Mears, signed from Coyle’s previous club Burnley as well as winger Chris Eagles for a joint fee of around £3million. Unfortunately for both club and player, Mears broke his leg in training and is likely to miss a large portion of the season with reports of how long his lay-off will be too early to predict. His injury has sparked rumours of a move by Bolton to sign Manchester City winger Shaun Wright-Phillips and Owen Coyle has expressed his interest in the England international. It remains difficult to see how that move would materialise as Wright-Phillips would have to take a major pay cut to move to the Reebok Stadium; a loan move may be more achievable.
Mears joins Chung-Yong Lee on the injury list, after breaking his leg in a pre-season friendly against Newport County, as well as American midfielder Stuart Holden, who is back in training after suffering a broken leg after a challenge from Manchester United’s Jonny Evans last season. Unlike Mears and Lee, Holden is likely to be back a lot sooner and if his form of last season is anything to go by, he will be a big influence on Bolton’s team this year.
Coyle’s activity on the transfer market may also hinge on the situation of defender Gary Cahill who has been linked with moves away from the Reebok but no offers have been made for the England defender, according to the club. His presence at the centre of Bolton’s defence would be sorely missed but the cash made available to the club if he was sold would be immensely appreciated by Coyle.
Former England U21 and West Ham captain Nigel Reo-Coker has also been brought in from Aston Villa to help sure up the midfield as well as Swansea player Darren Pratley.
Owen Coyle was used to operating on a shoestring budget at Burnley and at Bolton he must do it again but on an entirely different level. The 2011/2012 Premier League season will demonstrate how well he can do it.