4928: Bolton Wanderers; Will Sammy
by : Stephen Orford
In the midst of another international break, there is the usual generous helping of pressure on some of the Premier League’s managers.
By now Martin Jol must think that his real first name is ‘under fire’, while Derby County’s Billy Davies seems to fight an almost weekly battle of wills with chairman Peter Gadsby. Even Rafa Benitez at Liverpool has not been entirely safe from the traditional autumnal speculation as chairmen and owners up and down the land take stock of their team’s start to the season.
Jose Mourinho has already romped away with this season’s Premier League Sack Race honours, despite being ‘not sacked’ by Chelsea in September. Yet the Special One’s exit from Stamford Bridge looked on the cards from the moment he and Roman Abramovich clashed over Andriy Shevchenko’s arrival.
All of which means we are still waiting for a genuine surprise in the field of managerial casualties. If Jol, Davies or Benitez cannot fill the obvious void, then perhaps Bolton Wanderers manager Sammy Lee can. The former Liverpool midfielder’s position at The Reebok Stadium is under increasing press scrutiny, that despite the fact that he has only been in the job since the fag end of last season.
The trigger for the whispering has seemingly been the resignation (or was it?) of player-coach Gary Speed. The ex-Leeds United, Newcastle United and Everton man claimed that standing down from his off-field role was his idea, whereas other reports suggest that Lee is claiming the credit for the decision. Or should that be blame? Either way, Speed is left to concentrate on plugging some rather gaping holes in the Bolton midfield with the team lying a dismal 19th out of 20.
The difference of opinion on Speed’s dual role is thought to be one of many issues behind something of a player revolt. There have also been suggestions that talismanic midfield stars Kevin Nolan and Ivan Campo have voiced their disapproval of Lee’s so-called methods. Both have spent time on the sidelines for their pains. That attempt at instilling club discipline is to be admired, but few will have sympathy with the rookie boss if it is an act which ultimately leads to his departure. Adding to his woes is Nicolas Anelka’s dreamy meandering about joining a ‘big club’. Having signed Anelka to a new contract in the summer, Lee needs to get the French star thinking more about where he is now than where he may or may not be next season or beyond.
What Lee doesn’t need now is a trip to Arsenal. Yet that is exactly what awaits him when his cosmopolitan charges return from their international duties. The Gunners top the league, unbeaten and in ominous form. It is a fixture that Bolton would expect little from at the best of times, but has somehow become one from which Lee needs something if he is to persuade the club’s hierarchy to hold their nerve. A change of manager is all too often presented as the magical solution to a club’s troubles, yet there is often more merit in giving a manager more time to develop his ideas and build his own team.
After all, this is still very much Sam Allardyce’s squad. Lee has not been hugely backed in the transfer market (nor, in fairness would he have expected to be given Allardyce’s achievements on such a modest budget), yet the signings that ’Little Sam’ has made have proved nothing as yet. Men like Daniel Braaten, Christian Wilhelmsson and Mikel Alonso are yet to convince, while an injury to Kevin Davies has taken away one of the team‘s major strengths in recent seasons.
If Lee can somehow negotiate the Emirates Stadium hurdle on Saturday (October 20), he may recapture the faith of chairman Phil Gartside. The same Phil Gartside who, in the wake of Allardyce’s departure and subsequent arrival at Newcastle, publicly stated that Bolton would be better off in Lee’s hands in any case. An argument about whether Bolton would be 19th in the division with Allardyce still at the helm seems entirely superfluous.
Confidence will certainly be boosted by any sort of result at Ashburton Grove, even if there is no immediate improvement in league position. Following the trip to north London is a home UEFA Cup tie against Portuguese side Braga, while Aston Villa visit The Reebok on October 28. Manchester City’s Halloween night visit rounds off a trio of vital home games in the aftermath of the Arsenal test, at which point Lee will have either cemented or vacated his position in the Bolton hot-seat.
By Stephen Orford
15 October 2007