It’s widely regarded that Sam Allardyce is the best manager Bolton have had in their ‘recent’ history. But as Big Sam left the club almost 12 years ago now, we wanted to investigate who’s been the best and most successful man to take the job since.
Following Big Sam’s departure in 2007, Bolton have had six full-time managers. All of whom have battled to emulate Allardyce’s success.
I’m going to take you through each manager now, detailing the impact they had on the team, the results they had and transfers they made. Hopefully by the end of this article, we’ll have a clear idea of who has been the best Bolton manager since Big Sam.
Sammy Lee (2007)
Games managed: 14 Won: 3 Drawn: 4 Lost: 7 Win %: 21.4
Sammy Lee took over directly from Big Sam and had huge shoes to fill. Sadly for Little Sam, he was unable to recreate the work of his predecessor and struggled in his brief spell in charge.
Little Sam’s biggest downfall while manager, was tampering with the tried and tested formula that proved successful under Allardyce. The perfect example of this was playing Kevin Nolan at right midfield in a 4-4-2 formation. Under Allardyce, Bolton played in a 4-3-3, with Nolan in his preferred central role.
I think Lee’s brief spell as Bolton boss can be summed up fairly well in that his best signing was Gavin McCann.
Lee’s side won only once in the league before Sammy was given the boot in mid-October 2007.
Gary Megson (2007-09)
Games managed: 99 Won: 27 Drawn: 27 Lost: 45 Win %: 27.3
Megson came in to steady the ship at Bolton after a poor start under Sammy Lee. He succeeded in his first year in charge, with the club just about maintaining its Premier League status. However, Megson grew unpopular over time as he was unable to take the club forward in the same fashion as Big Sam.
Despite that, Gary Megson’s Bolton side were responsible for some of the club’s most historic results. In only Megson’s third game in charge, Bolton were able to come away with a draw at the Allianz Arena against European giants Bayern Munich. Later that season, Bolton knocked Atletico Madrid out of the UEFA Cup as well.
Megson was also responsible for the signings of Gary Cahill and Chung-Yong Lee, two of Bolton’s best players in recent years.
But after a below-average start to the 2009/10 campaign, Megson was sacked.
Owen Coyle (2010-12)
Games managed: 126 Won: 42 Drawn: 24 Lost: 60 Win %: 33.3
Coyle began his Bolton career well and looked to instil a more attractive style of play in the Wanderers. Initially results improved under the former Bolton player.
Coyle had an astute talent for picking up high-profile players on loan during his time in charge. Coyle brought in Jack Wilshere, Rodrigo Moreno and Daniel Sturridge on loan. He was also responsible for the signing of Marcos Alonso from Real Madrid in 2010.
During the 2010/11 season, Bolton even threatened the European places at times. However, as the Trotters also had a cup run on their hands towards the end of the season, results took a turn for the worse. Their form in the league completely collapsed after the FA Cup semi-final defeat against Stoke. The following season, Coyle’s Bolton failed to recover and fell out of the Premier League.
Despite success in the loan market, a lot of Coyle’s permanent transfers were huge flops to say the least. In Bolton’s final season in the Premier League, they signed David N’Gog, Nigel Reo-Coker and Marvin Sordell, all of whom proved to be rather useless for the Trotters. Chances are, these questionable transfers probably contributed to Wanderers’ current financial situation
Coyle probably deserved more from his spell in charge. The popular manager was dealt a bad hand with several serious injuries and not to mention Fabrice Muamba’s ill-fated cardiac arrest.
Sadly for Owen, his side couldn’t adapt to life in the Championship quickly enough and he was sacked in October 2012.
Dougie Freedman (2012-14)
Games managed: 101 Won: 34 Drawn: 33 Lost: 34 Win %: 33.7
Dougie Freedman was poached from fellow Championship side Crystal Palace in 2012. Bolton’s form didn’t really improve under Freedman until the following February when something in the side just clicked. The team went on an incredible run of form that saw them miss out on a crucial play-off spot. What made it more painful was that they missed out on little more than goal difference.
After a positive end to the 2012/13 campaign, hopes were high for a return to the Premier League in 2014. However, Freedman’s side floundered at the start of his first full season in charge, failing to win their first game until October. In similar style to the previous season, Bolton’s form took off at the end of February. They even beat Leeds 5-1 at Elland Road. But by then it was too late to really help the Wanderers.
While Freedman may have been able to secure the permanent signing of Jay Spearing, most of the Scot’s transfer activity was plain awful. Not a single signing Freeman made remains at the club today.
When the 2014/15 season started poorly once again, the Bolton board lost patience with Freedman. In October 2014 he was out.
Neil Lennon (2014-16)
Games managed: 80 Won: 18 Drawn: 26 Lost: 36 Win %: 22.5
Neil Lennon arrived in 2014 and galvanised the team. The initial transformation under Lennon was mightily impressive.
After winning just one game in the first 11 that season, Lennon’s side went onto win seven of his first 12 games in charge. In a hugely popular move, Lennon convinced Eidur Gudjohnsen to return to Bolton. It was a signing that mirrored the transfer talents of Sam Allardyce.
Later that season, Lennon’s Bolton side took Premier League Liverpool to the wire in a tightly fought FA Cup tie. Wanderers led until the final moments in a memorable fourth round replay. They were ultimately knocked out but performed admirably.
However, after losing Korean superstar, Chung-Yong Lee, to Crystal Palace in January 2015, Wanderers’ season fell apart thanks to several inconsistent performances. But, hopes were high once again, heading into the 2015/16 season.
That hope however, was crushed cruelly during the following campaign. The 2015/16 season became one of the worst in the club’s history. Bolton finished bottom of the Championship with only five league wins to their name.
Poor form on the pitch was coupled with a collapse behind the scenes that almost saw the club fall into administration.
Lennon can hardly be blamed for years of financial mismanagement at Bolton. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The collapse of Bolton behind the scenes sadly meant the Irishman couldn’t live up to the high potential he had shown at Celtic prior to joining Bolton.
Lennon left the club in March 2015, before Bolton were officially relegated on April 9.
Phil Parkinson (2016-present)
Games managed: 139 Won: 47 Drawn: 33 Lost: 59 Win %: 33.8 (stats correct at time of writing)
Phil Parkinson came in before Bolton’s first season in third-tier football for over 20 years.
Working on a shoe-string budget, Parkinson was able to win automatic promotion back to the Championship at the first time of asking.
A season later and Parkinson performed another miracle by keeping the Trotters in the Championship with a heroic performance on the final day of the season.
Throughout all of Parkinson’s Bolton tenure, the manager has faced crippling financial issues, an often-wayward Chairman and the loss of his best players. And yet, Bolton still have a chance to stay in the Championship.
While the current Bolton boss may not promote the most attractive football in his team, you cannot deny that Parkinson has worked miracles at Bolton Wanderers.
The manager has remained calm and dignified throughout all of the turbulence that has surrounded the club this season. Many a manager would simply have cracked under the pressure. Parkinson has been resolute and his hopefulness of beating relegation this season has to be applauded.
While it is fair that Parkinson has received criticism for his less-than-attractive brand of football, it cannot be denied that Wanderers simply don’t have the players to play any other way.
Who’s the best of them all?
Despite the poor results Wanderers have endured these past two seasons, Phil Parkinson stands out to me.
It’s shouldn’t be forgotten that he was able to motivate a recently relegated team and won promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt. And then a season later, kept Bolton in the second tier. Using only free transfers and loan players in both campaigns.
It is for that reason, that I have to conclude, that Phil Parkinson – given all that he’s had to endure for the past two and a half years, and the results his team have still managed to achieve – is Bolton’s best manager since Sam Allardyce.
Hopefully Parkinson and co. can beat the drop this year to confirm my belief.
Do you agree with my reasoning? Or does another manager deserve the accolade more?