If Roberto Mancini thinks that one win against Fulham suddenly makes him the “best manager” for Manchester City, then Bolton Wanderers manager Owen Coyle has got to be the best in the world.
The two Greater Manchester neighbours couldn’t be more different. Mancini’s the fancy suit and scarf-wearing, Jose Mourinho-wannabe, a former Italian international whose reputation as a player played its part in him getting his early managerial jobs at some of Italy’s bigger clubs.
Coyle, on the other hand, wears tracksuits – sometimes with shorts – while he patrols the sidelines; had an undistinguished footballing career for which the highlight was a brief, brief spell in the Premier League (also with Bolton); and only ever had one international cap for the Republic of Ireland, which is a sad story in itself because Coyle was born in Scotland.
Having failed to get into the Scotland side, he used his Irish ancestry to try and build an international career with Ireland, and even they didn’t want him after just one appearance.
But despite Mancini’s relatively privileged managerial upbringing, which includes having three Serie A titles more or less handed to him in the fall-out from the Italian match-fixing scandal, and £126mil (RM630mil) worth of players gladly signed for him by City’s owners (and that’s just one summer’s worth of shopping), his club sit a mere three points above Bolton after 14 games.
His team are filled with bickering, under-performing superstars, while Coyle’s men are a honest, hard-working unit playing out of their skins, out-scoring City so far and losing a game less.
Johan Elmander, previously a staple in most “XI biggest Premier League flops” lists thanks to his club record transfer fee valued at over £10mil (RM50mil), is now the league’s top scorer. His 33-year-old strike partner Kevin Davies is third in the Premier League scoring charts and finally an England international, for whatever little that’s worth today.
The Trotters are the league’s top scorers outside the top three, who are all tied at 28 goals, with Bolton just two goals behind. They’ve only lost two games, to Arsenal and Liverpool, and pushed Manchester United all the way to a 2-2 draw.
What’s more impressive is that he’s achieved all that with basically the same squad predecessor Gary Megson had. The only major additions to the squad have been midfielder Stuart Holden, plucked from obscurity in the MLS; and Martin Petrov, a free transfer from, ironically, Manchester City.
And while Mancini’s City have been accused of being boring and lacking attacking ambition, Bolton have finally stepped out of the vast shadow of former manager Big Sam Allardyce and his ego.
As much as he thinks his teams play Real Madrid or Barcelona-style football, Allardyce had forged a team intent on playing “committed” football, for a lack of a better word, and it seemed like the club were finding it difficult to move on from that mentality, until Coyle came along.
These days, Coyle has his wingers Petrov and the excellent Lee Chung-Yong flying down the wings, and almost always plays with two out-and-out centre-forwards in Elmander and Davies.
At the same time, they’ve kept their defensive solidity at the back with the highly-rated Gary Cahill, Zat Knight and Fabrice Muamba forming a defensive triangle that’s as good as any in the league.
But Bolton’s current success is not so much of an indictment of Mancini’s City reign – flawed as it may be – as it is confirmation of Coyle’s ability as a manager.
He had already worked wonders in his last job at Burnley, overseeing their high-flying start to life in the Premier League last season when they caused the shock of the season by beating United 1-0.
He left Burnley mid-way through the season to help steer a struggling Bolton side to the safety of 14th spot. Without Coyle, Burnley were relegated.
But the higher you climb, the harder you fall. Burnley fans used to call him “God”. They now call him Judas.
Just days after they moved temporarily into fourth spot, it was announced that Bolton were in serious financial trouble, with debts exceeding £90mil (RM450mil).
It might not sound like much considering it’s just over two thirds of what City spent last summer alone, or compared to the debts clubs like Manchester United have; but for a club of Bolton’s size, it is a crippling amount.
Coyle is already having to face the prospect of losing two of his best players, Elmander, whose contract is running out, and Cahill, who has been strongly linked with Arsenal and Chelsea.
And if United could ill-afford to sell Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic, or Chelsea to lose Didier Drogba and John Terry, then for Coyle to lose Elmander and Cahill would be a disaster, one that seems inevitable at the moment.
So the sad thing is while Coyle is having to pay the price of financial problems that were building up way before he took charge; Mancini on the other hand continues to enjoy an embarrassment of riches that he barely deserves.