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Sam Allardyce on finance, farewells and what really happened

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Sam Allardyce has lifted the lid on his time as manager of Bolton Wanderers, and what he described as “the greatest journey of my life as a football manager.”

In the decade since he walked away from the Reebok Stadium for good, Big Sam has endured plenty of highs and lows in the game.

From success guiding West Ham back into the Premier League and saving Sunderland and Crystal Palace from relegation against the odds to the huge disappointment of achieving a lifelong dream and taking the England job, only for his tenure to be cut short in controversial circumstances.

Allardyce’s eight-and-a-half years at the Reebok Stadium remains the role which defines his career and with the 63-year-old appearing to be on the cusp of a return to football with Everton, he reflected on his time at Bolton, which had begun as a 15-year-old apprentice.

“It was the club which allowed me to fulfil my childhood dreams essentially, a dream which thousands and thousands of young lads have – of being a professional footballer,” he said.

“Not only that, but I then got the chance to go back and manage there, too. That’s unbelievable.

“But then, you’re just so focused on making that club successful because it means so much to you.

“Week to week, month to month, season to season, you’re so driven to making that club better and more successful.

“When I got there, the club was clearly in a bad position, which is why I was given the job. When I think back at how we ended up eight years later, it honestly was the greatest journey of my life as a football manager.

“It doesn’t beat playing – because that’s your childhood dream – but to get that success at Bolton, with some of the players we got to bring to the club and the type of football we played, to qualify for Europe, winning a play-off final, reaching Wembley - it was just one great journey after another.”

Allardyce’s departure in April 2007 came as a shock to Bolton fans, two games before the end of the season.

There had been a steady deterioration of the relationship between manager and former chairman Phil Gartside over how much investment should be sought from Eddie Davies which came to a head as Wanderers chased a Champions League spot the previous Christmas.

“I won’t lie, it broke my heart leaving Bolton,” he said. “But, mentally, I had move on. The club at the time I left unfortunately lacked the ambition I had. I felt they didn’t have the ambition to achieve what I believed the staff, the team and I could accomplish.

“As such, there was no point in me staying there. Which was a really, really sad end to what was some of the best years of my life, especially as a manager.”

Allardyce assembled a squad which managed four consecutive top-eight finishes and qualified for Europe for the first time in its history. Bolton were on the verge of a second UEFA Cup campaign when he resigned, and yesterday saw the 10th anniversary of the famous 2-2 draw at Bayern Munich, achieved the following season.

“I made some amazing signings during my time at the club,” Allardyce said. “We used the loan system at the time – but not the English one, one we adopted from abroad – where you get the player for the full season, which is a temporary transfer. This meant we could pay the players wages.

“Most of those players were dying to move to the Premier League, it’s the best league in the entire world and everyone knows that. So, financially, it wasn’t a burden on the club if we didn’t manage to stay up. And that became a massive part of our recruitment drive in the early years, rather than offering long and expensive contracts.

“So, of course, when we managed to stay up and achieved moderate success, more and more of those players wanted to stay at Bolton. That’s where we did really well in signing those players of such great quality throughout Europe.

“They came, and they really enjoyed the football we were playing. Add to that the fact that we really loved working with them, too. It was a win-win. The club had such a fantastic period of time, which the fans won’t forget.”

Allardyce said he managed to bring the likes of Jay Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Nicolas Anelka and Ivan Campo to Bolton by selling them the vision of playing Premier League football and meeting them in person, often flying out midweek to meet them at home.

But he admits the galaxy of international stars could have been even greater, had circumstances been different.

“There were a couple of signings we came extremely close to but didn’t quite get,” he said. “Samuel Eto’o was one when he was playing for Mallorca. He really wanted to come to England, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

“There was Rivaldo, too. We met in Manchester at the Lowry Hotel. I think most people, at the time, thought it was Man United who were going to sign him. They didn’t expect that it was Bolton that he was interested in coming to.

“In the end, the club decided that Rivaldo was perhaps a bit too much of a financial risk. So, we didn’t quite get him, but just him actually coming to chat to us about the move was amazing. Because of the players we already had, this was such an attraction for so many of the biggest names. Bolton itself too, we had such a good reputation at the time.”

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