Having guided Burnley to the Premier League before reaping more acclaim at Bolton, the former Ireland international was relieved of his duties at the Reebok in October, as Wanderers struggled to adapt to the challenge of the Championship following relegation on the last day of the season.
“Itching? Yeah,” says the affable 46-year-old, “but, what’s the best way to put this — if it was the right opportunity then I would come back in tomorrow, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had three or four approaches already but I didn’t think they were the right opportunities for me. And the reason I’m saying that, is that it’s got to be a joint effort. I’ve been very lucky to work for good football clubs, with good people, and I would need that again. And the biggest single thing for me is that, when I do come back in, I will be looking for a club as ambitious as I am.
“And that probably goes back to my playing career. I played at 10 stone as a player and for what I had in terms of physique, I think I maximised everything in my playing career, culminating in — and I’m so thankful for it — actually playing for Ireland against Holland when Tommy Coyne scored in Tilburg in the 1-0 friendly before the ’94 World Cup. I’d played all the way through the 21s, 23s and B internationals, this little skinny striker of 10 stone. But I was supremely fit because I looked after myself and I was a very good goalscorer — not lightning quick but I worked my socks off — so I maximised what I had as a player and that’s the same thing I took into coaching and management, trying to get players to have that desire and that hunger to be the best they can be.”
Although he admits to being disappointed that he only ever won that solitary cap for Ireland, the honour of wearing the green was still hugely significant for the Scottish-born striker.
“This is a thing some people find difficult to get their heads around,” he concedes. “I was born and brought up in the Gorbals in Glasgow, and I’m very proud of that, but equally I’m tremendously proud of my Irish background. My parents are both Irish, though my dad is dead now, God rest him. But he was from Donegal, and where we were brought up in the Gorbals was known as ‘Little Donegal’ because it was nearly all Irish families. So I was extremely proud to play for Ireland.
“I remember actually that Jack [Charlton] told me I’d play in the game before Holland — against Russia — but I was only on the bench and never got on. And so you’re thinking to yourself , ‘the chance has passed me by’. But then I did come on against Holland. And then I was named in the provisional squad for USA ’94. But Ireland had good strikers at the time. Tommy was there, John Aldridge, Niall Quinn, David Kelly — those boys had done all the hard work to get to the finals so I never ever felt I was going to force my way into the final squad. I was just desperate for the lads to have a fantastic tournament.”
And he was equally desperate for Ireland to do well at the Euros.
“But, truth be told,” he says, “the way it transpired was we were outplayed by better sides and that was the disappointment. Coming off that, you want to make sure in the qualifiers you’re up and running and so the Germany game hurt everybody. I think they showed character in going to the Faroes which was always going to be a difficult game. The important thing is that, come the end of the campaign, we can qualify.”
Coyle has direct connections with some of the current Irish players, not least Seamus Coleman, whom he attempted to sign from Sligo to Burnley.
“We brought him over and we played a closed door game,” he recalls, “and within 10 minutes of the start, Seamus being Seamus, he went into a tackle that was 20-80 — in the other guy’s favour. And he went off with a knee injury and we couldn’t sign him, he was out for three months after that. But as soon as he was fit, Moysey got word and, Everton being a bigger club than Burnley, he signed him. The great thing about Seamus is that he wears his heart on his sleeve.”
And it was Coyle too who brought Keith Andrews to Bolton.
“I think he’s a terrific player. You know what you’re getting from him and that’s the type I’ve always liked working with. From speaking to him, I know he was disappointed how it turned out in the Euros. But that’s what you look for, you want to show everyone we can bounce back and qualify now for the World Cup. And I believe we can.”
Coyle admits that he would some day love to manage Ireland but, for now, describes it as a hypothetical. His immediate goal is a return to club football.
“It only takes one phone call and everything changes,” he reflects. “It could be a Premier League club fighting for their lives or a Championship club with aspirations of going to the Premier League — but it needs to be the right thing.”
* Owen Coyle was speaking in Dublin to promote ESPN’s coverage of the Barclays Premier League.
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