Bolton: from Big Sam to little Sammy
After finishing a disappointing eighth in May 2006, Sam Allardyce was left to reflect on what might have been after a dismal April left Bolton without the European football they had looked odds-on to attain. The summer started strangely: Didi Hamann looked to be the first of Sam’s customary old head recruits until man City came in and snatched him from Bolton, paying roughly half a million pounds for a player whom Bolton had secured on a free transfer. Sam hailed it as his best deal ever, but secretly will have been angry to lose out on the experience and grit Hamann would have brought to his midfield.
From there things picked up though, although an audacious bid for Javier Saviola never materialised. The signing of Nicolas Anelka from Fenerbache was a huge coup for Bolton and helped to ease the pain of Allardyce’s failure to land the England job. Allardyce had previously stated that he didn’t feel Bolton would be able to convince Anelka to join them, but a dismal pre-season of five defeats in six games was forgotten about when Anelka signed for the club. Abdoulaye Meite and Quinton Fortune were also procured but club favourite Jay-Jay Okocha left for the warmer climate in Qatar.
The BBC’s contraversial Panorama Expose threatened to overshadow Bolton’s impressive start to the season. While Allardyce was accused of taking bungs, an allegation he vehemently denied, Bolton racked up 20 points from their first nine games, leading them to third place before a 4-0 reverse at home to Man Utd put the brakes on their march up the table. Four wins in December saw Bolton leapfrog Arsenal back into third place having already racked up wins over Liverpool, Spurs and the Gunners to name but three, however Bolton were knocked out of the Carling Cup in the third round by Charlton. Defeat to Arsenal in a fourth round replay ended Bolton’s chances of silverware and they were left to focus on the league.
After virtually ending Chelsea’s title hopes with a 2-2 draw in late April, Sam Allardyce stunned the football world with his resignation. While rumours had begun to circulate, the fact that Allardyce left before the season’s conclusion left many scratching their heads. Sammy Lee was immediately named as his successor, the experienced former Liverpool and England coach having been Allardyce’s right hand man at Bolton. Allardyce claimed it was important for the new man to start work straight away and thus stepped aside, to watch from the stands as Sammy Lee’s Bolton secured Uefa Cup qualification with a 2-2 draw at home to Aston Villa on the final day of the season.
Sammy Lee is widely recognised as having been one of the best coaches around. A legacy of the Anfield boot room, Lee has worked with England as well as under Allardyce at Bolton. While his coaching skills are not in question, the ability to get the same commitment from his players as Allardyce did will be key to Bolton’s season.
Nicolas Anelka has admitted that he’d find it hard to turn Man Utd down were they to come calling, however his statement that re-affirms his contentment at Bolton is a huge relief to the club and the fans. Anelka is a classy striker whose presence in the squad could prove vital in persuading others to join him at the Reebok Stadium.
There are likely to be big changes at the club this summer with Lee having already released experienced pro’s Henrik Pederson, Quinton Fortune and David Thompson. Much will depend on the his ability to bring in new, younger players to complement the likes of Anelka, club captain Kevin Nolan and Kevin Davies. Gary Speed’s increased coaching capacity is also a plus for the club
It is hard not to look at Bolton’s squad as Sam Allardyce’s squad. Tal Ben Haim looks set to join his old boss at Newcastle, Jussi Jaaskelainen is being strongly tipped to move to Sunderland and Diouf wants to leave as well. Three players who have all perhaps outdone themselves under Allardyce and will be a big loss to Bolton as a club.
Spending money. Whether or not Sammy Lee will get the kind of money that allowed Allardyce to splash out on Anelka last year remains to be seen. However the club desperately needs to recruit new players with fans hoping J’Lloyd Samuel will be the first of many, a shrewd free transfer from Aston Villa.
Sammy Lee is being linked with a loan move for Djibril Cisse, a partnership with Anelka could prove miraculous, but has already lost out on Antoine Sibierski who would have been a welcome addition. Phil Jagielka looks set to turn down Bolton in favour of Everton and with Utd knocking on Anelka’s door, Lee faces a desperate fight to maintain his current squad regardless of his ability to bring in new faces.
Where to begin. (1) Jaaskelainen will be hard to replace should he choose to leave. Although Sammy Lee is trying to convince him to stay, the Finn may choose for a new venture under the exciting Roy Keane tenure at Sunderland. Possible replacements could include a loan move for Scott Carson of Liverpool, perhaps even a move for Jerzy Dudek, although wages may be a problem. West Brom’s Dean Kiely has experience at this level while Wolves’ player of the season Matt Murray may fancy a shot at the Premiership however Wolves would be loath to lose their star keeper.
(2) Just about everywhere else. J’Lloyd Samuel’s signing will boost the defence however the departure of Ben Haim is a big loss and an experienced centre back is a must although Bolton’s interest in Sami Hyypia has proven fruitless with Liverpool reluctant to sell. Bolton’s midfield is traditionally strong, however Gary Speed’s focus may shift towards coaching meaning the likes of Giannakopoulos and promising youngster Andranik Teymourian will need to deliver quality service with Kevin Nolan pushing them on.
(3) With Diouf likely to depart and Kevin Davies pushing on in years, a new striker will be a must for Bolton, to keep Anelka happy if nothing else. While Vaz Te has intermittently shown good potential, Carlos Tenorio is being linked with the club while Robbie Fowler may take his final bow at Bolton with Lee having worked with the Liverpool striker for years before Fowler’s departure for Leeds.
At the moment it’s hard to see Bolton replicating their success of last season in qualifying for the Uefa Cup. While Sammy Lee will need time to take over from the hugely influential Allardyce, he needs to act quickly to make sure the club keep moving forward. Lee’s inexperience at managerial level is counteracted by his strong coaching experience so it will be interesting to see how he fares in his debut managerial season. New signings will be hugely important, coupled with Lee’s attempts to persuade his more experienced players not to seek pastures new like his predecessor. The funds Bolton chairman Phil Gartside makes available to his new manager will influence the look of Lee’s squad and he may have to settle for cheaper transfers, the trend starting with the free transfer of J’Lloyd Samuel. With some younger faces in the squad and the experience of the likes of Nolan, Speed and Anelka, Bolton should secure a mid-table position this season despite a potentially gruelling schedule with three cup competitions ready to take the focus off the league, a nightmare scenario for new boss Sammy Lee.