Very quietly, Owen Coyle has proven himself one of the savviest English Premier League managers in the transfer market. He understands basic economic principles too many managers at the highest level simply don’t get.
The key to the transfer market, like any market, is to master risk versus reward. Ideally, a manager wants to buy cheap assets (players) that have the potential to yield big returns. Coyle has done this brilliantly. In his first eight months as manager at Bolton, Coyle has spent virtually no money and improved his squad significantly.
Since taking over in January, Coyle has “bought” four players over the age of 21. His first was in January when he swooped in to buy underrated American midfielder Stuart Holden (for nothing). This summer, he grabbed pacey winger Martin Petrov (for nothing), veteran forward Robbie Blake (for nothing) and striker Ivan Klasnic, who scored eight goals for Bolton on loan last year (for nothing).
In other words, he bought arguably one of top 10 wingers in the league (Petrov), a player with a high ceiling (Holden), a forward he built a relationship with at Burnley (Blake) and striker who scored as many Premier League goals last year as Peter Crouch, FOR NOTHING!
Coyle has spent money, but they have been small investments in young players that could lead to big returns. He bought 19-year-old former Real Madrid fullback Marcos Alonso for £1.6 and 18-year-old forward Tom Eaves from Oldham, who scored a hat trick against Bolton in preseason for £350,000. Last January, he also rented the two best players available on loan in England (Jack Wilshere and Vladimir Weiss) to secure Bolton’s place in the top division.
Other Premiership mid-table teams have also made cleaver, cheap signings. Newcastle picking up Dan Gosling and Blackpool snatching Marlon Harewood for free were two of the best. But no one has been as consistently good as Coyle.
(Tangent: Steve Bruce at Sunderland has also done a fabulous job this summer. He signed four impact players on loan (Danny Welbeck, Nedum Onuoha, John Mensah and Ahmed Al-Muhammadi). He also bought Argentine defender Marcos Angeleri for £2 million, Belgian goalie Simon Mignolet for £2 million, former Wigan center back Titus Bramble for £1 million and Paraguayan international Cristian Riveros on a free transfer. But what has made Bruce’s summer exceptional is he sold Kenwyne Jones, Lorik Cana, Daryl Murphy and Martin Fulop for a combined £15.5 million. So he made his team better (at least I think he has) and netted over £10 million.)
Other clubs seems to throw economic principals out the window in the transfer market. Stoke signing Kenwyne Jones for £8 million; Birmingham signing Ben Foster and Nikola Zigic for £6 million each; Wolves signing Steven Fletcher for £6.5 million are all very questionable. One or two of these players might prove worth it, but these are examples of lazy signings.
Too many Premiership managers are willing to pay extra for players they know from the Premiership, instead of paying less for players they haven’t personally seen as much in other parts of Europe and the World. Is Steven Fletcher really the best forward Wolves can get for £6.5 million? Of course not. But Mick McCarthy has seen him play and figures he can “do a job” for him. I guarantee there are at least a half dozen better forwards than Fletcher playing in Europe that McCarthy could have got for half the price. For example, in 2007 Mark Hughes at Blackburn signed Roque Santa Cruz for £3.5 million from Bayern Munich; Santa Cruz went on to score 19 goals that season. It’s critically important for medium-sized Premiership clubs to invest in its scouting network because nothing can save a club more money in the long run.
It’s conventional wisdom that it’s all but impossible for clubs like Bolton, Sunderland, Birmingham or Stoke to finish in the top four. Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool are too big, they have too much money and their players are simply too good for a medium-sized club to climb all the way up the table and qualify for the Champions League.
This year, that is definitely true. But if over a couple year span a club is able to snatch a couple castaways from bigger clubs (Petrov), sign a couple foreign gems (Holden), find a couple impact loan players (Welbeck), make a profit on overrated players (Kenwyen Jones) and have a tactically gifted coach it’s easily within the realm of possibility a club like Bolton can outsmart the competition and finish in the top quarter of the table.