In October 1999 Sam Allardyce breezed into his office at the Reebok Stadium to take over a club at the foot of the first division table. Amazingly, he guided Bolton Wanderers to the play-off semi finals the same season as well reaching both domestic cup finals.
The following season Wanderers finished in third place and again competed in the play-offs – this time they dispatched Lancashire rivals Preston North End 3-0 in the final. Allardyce had led Bolton to promotion in his first full season. The first two years in the Premier League were understandably spent fighting off relegation which they did successfully. What we didn’t expect was for the Trotters to then finish in the top eight four season’s consecutively - qualifying for the UEFA Cup twice in the process and even achieving sixth place in 2004/05.
These highly succesful seasons in the Premier League owe no small part to Wanderers’ success in the transfer market. During this era Youri Djorkaeff, Jay Jay Okocha, Fernando Hierro, Ivan Campo and Nicolas Anelka all donned the the white shirts of the Lancashire club. Not only did Bolton qualify for Europe, they made it to the League Cup final in Cardiff where they were beaten by Middlesbrough.
However those days of European qualification, cup finals and regular top ten finishes seem like a distant memory. When Big Sam left to take over at Newcastle United in April 2007, Bolton turned to his assistant Sammy Lee. Lee’s tenure was disastrous. Despite ensuring qualification for Europ in the month after taking over his name sake, Little Sam lasted lasted until October of the next season with just one win to his credit. In stepped Gary Megson and the continual battle against relegation. Despite the direct style of football not really changing since Allardyce’s reign, it seems poor signings have led the club to the position they are in.
Johan Elmander arrived at the club in 2008 for a whopping fee of £8.2 Million from Toulouse with Daniel Braaten going the other way. He has managed a pitiful 5 goals in his 28 games for the club. For the sake of pointless statistics that is £1.64 million pounds per goal, tad expensive for a centre forward you feel?
Gary Cahill was signed last season from Aston Villa for £5 Million. Now I want to go on record and mention that I watched Cahill on loan for Sheffield United in the same season and make 16 appearances for the Blades. He looked an outstanding player in the Championship but £5 Million quid is a big fee when you consider that Everton landed Phil Jagielka for £4 Million.
Bolton were once incredibly shrewd in the market but have splurged on mediocre players since the days of Sam Allardyce. Add Gretnar Steinsson (£3.5 million), Danny Shittu (£2 Million basic) and we add further weight to the issue. Matt Taylor has been a reasonable acquisition, a tad over-priced at £4 million but at least he has 10 goals to his credit. Yes, the £8.2 million striker Elmander has been out-scored by a left back/midfielder.
I know that transfer fees for players are forever spiralling upward, but does anyone out there not think that Allardyce wouldn’t have spent that cash better than Megson? Considering that the Trotters sold Nicolas Anelka to Chelsea in January 2008 for £15 Million those transfer funds have been poorly distributed. Maybe Bolton saw Megson a fit appointment in relation to his direct style of physical football – it can’t have been his charisma. A quiet character by the name of Neil Warnock once commented on Megson releasing an auto-biography by saying “Oh he’s writing a book is he? Well it’ll be the best f**king cure for insomniacs that’s ever been published”.
I fear that Bolton, a good family club may join the likes of Southampton, Coventry and Middlesbrough in domiciling in mid-table anonymity for years before finally suffering the drop. Bolton have been good for the Premier League and have been a model for other promoted clubs to base their for model for success on. However with the current man in charge I cannot see Wanderers firing back up the table – particularly if they don’t replace Kevin Nolan.