Writer: Richard McCormick
Date:Tuesday May 27 2008
Three different managers in a year. Two influential central defenders leave. Other players are past their sell by date. Several new signings don`t make the grade. A crushing defeat in the first game of the season. Of such things, relegation is made. As the 2007-8 season finally draws to a close, Bolton Wanderers can consider themselves fortunate to still have Premier League status.
Many predicted relegation for the Reebok outfit, including the usual selection of so called experts. Bolton couldn`t possibly survive without Sam Allardyce, right? Some of the 'fans` were no better. 'Eight years to build, eight months to destroy`, was the mantra of the educationally sub-normal chavs who gathered outside the Reebok in a bid to oust Gary Megson. The truth was that Bolton`s problems started way before Allardyce left. In the last five months of the previous season his side won only four times in the league, and were conceding an average of two goals a game, a damning statistic for a man with his clean sheet mentality. The players looked dispirited, unfit and unmotivated. Whoever took over had a sizeable rebuilding task to do.
That man turned out to be Sammy Lee. Lee said things that the supporters wanted to hear. They were bored of Allardyce`s style of play. When criticisms of Bolton`s long ball game were first made they were inaccurate and unfair and usually spouted by cry-baby managers and opposition fans, unable to accept defeat gracefully. Now they were valid. Allardyce had retreated into a hoof and hope game that was neither effective or pleasing to watch. Lee`s promise of change was welcomed.
The optimism didn`t last long. Twenty-seven minutes to be precise. For that was all it took for Newcastle, Allardyce`s new club, to forge a three-goal lead in the opening game of the season. Not that the Magpies played well, they were merely fortunate recipients of comic book defending.
From then on Lee was doomed. He wasn`t deserving of the sheer spite that came in his direction, but the little man made too many mistakes. The most crucial, as far as his own career was concerned, was the failure to distance himself from the players. A manager needs a certain detachment, Lee still wanted act like a coach.
The defence and defensive midfield were also problematic. Tal Ben Haim had quit the club and Abdoulaye Faye was always going to follow Big Sam to Newcastle. Abdoulaye Meite was still there, but playing badly and Gerald Cid, an Allardyce signing from Bordeaux was a disaster. One can only assume that Bolton`s scouts had been sampling the delights of that region`s vineyards when they recommended him. The midfield which used to protect the back four so well, was now immobile and easy to play through.
Most damaging were the rumours of mutiny that continued to filter from the training ground. Plenty claim to know what went on, few do. The only direct account comes from Kevin Nolan who met with Lee after he was dropped for the game against Chelsea.
"I said: 'What's happening?'" Nolan told the Independent. "He said: 'You come on and tell me what's up.' I said: 'What do you mean, 'what's up?' I'm gutted I wasn't playing.' He said: 'I don't think you were gutted enough.' I said: 'I was.' It just went back and fro, like that."
That match was Lee`s last in charge, despite the last six games of his reign yielding two wins, three draws and only one defeat. Once more, the Wanderers were looking for a new leader.
Date:Tuesday May 27 2008
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