When Bolton paid a club record fee of £8.2 million for the Swedish striker Johan Elmander, a few eyebrows were raised. Yet, the former Toulouse striker had been one of the most consistent players in the French league during his time for the Téfécé and had built a reputation as a creative deep lying centre forward. Unfortunately, joining a side whose manager lacked any creative spark seemed an unusual step for the likable Swede.
It was as unusual for a manager as lacking in creative idea’s as Gary Megson decision to sign him. To put it mildly, Elmander had a nightmare first 18 months at Bolton, playing in a defensively minded side and struggling to cope with being used as a main striker, rather than his usual deeper role. His play suffered, his reputation fell and a nightmare 9 month barren spell seemed to be a millstone he couldn’t shift.
The sacking of Megson was not only a god send for the Bolton faithful, but for the striker as well. Owen Coyle brought a breath of fresh air to the Reebok stadium that removed all the negativity that had built up under the previous two regimes. Despite the continual negative press that Bolton continue to garner, Coyle’s appointment has been one of continual improvement and changing perceptions.
It’s always easy to label sides such as Bolton Wanderers as purely physical, but Coyle is trying his upmost to change the footballing opinion of the side. Any side that had players such as jay Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff cannot seriously be considered a long ball side. To counter this though the lack of credit for players such as Jussi Jaaskelainen and Kevin Davies showed their achievements were never considered seriously.
Coyle’s appointment has seen Elmander return to his previous quality that he showed prior to joining Bolton. It’s not just a flash in a pan either, he’s been playing consistently well since Coyle took over in January this year. The manager clearly identified Elmander as key to creating a new Bolton Wanderers and the club is beginning to reap the dividends of the change. As an avid watcher of French football, I was always impressed with the strikers ability, skill and quality.
It was a real surprise to see him struggle so much and of course, some players for one reason or another, simply cannot cope with playing in a different league or a new country. Yet Elmander had adapted to playing in Norway, the Netherlands and France so much easier, it was strange to see him look so uncomfortable. Coyle clearly identified the problems and addressed them immediately, allowing Elmander to release the stresses that had clearly held him back.
This season has seen him already equal his league goal tally from last season with 3 to his name so far and Bolton bloodied Manchester United’s nose on Sunday. This is a side clearly on the up, playing attractive, positive football and finally seeing the best of Johan Elmander. It should be a good season for the Bolton faithful and one that will see them bloody a few more noses of more illustrious opponents. Elmander has the skills to unsettle the best defenders and I hope we seem him continue to get the goals his approach play this year clearly deserves.