THEY worshipped him from the terraces for four years – but Jay Jay Okocha’s surprising swipe at the Wanderers hierarchy has been met with a mixed reaction from many of the club’s supporters.
Of all the former Whites players who have been called upon to air their views on the season just gone, the Nigerian wizard of dribble would have been the last person you would have expected to weigh in with criticism after rarely courting publicity in the UK since he quit the Reebok in 2006.
Perhaps the most talented player of a golden era under Sam Allardyce, the former captain has spoken rarely but warmly of his time in the Premier League, where for a spell he was among the most exciting talents on view anywhere in the land.
After those glorious highlights, Okocha’s word will forever carry weight in this part of the world – so for the 38-year-old to voice such displeasure as the club slipped out of the top flight it is no surprise that tongues have been set wagging.
In an interview first published in the Daily Telegraph, Okocha accused Wanderers of failing to build on the foundations laid in his time at the club, and was stinging in his criticism of their lack of investment which he claimed had rendered his Reebok stay “a waste of time”.
“They have been playing cat and mouse with the club for some time now and the cat has caught up with the mouse. It is a pity,” he said.
“We laid a good foundation at Bolton but, unfortunately, for the fans, they have to deal with Bolton being a struggling team again.”
Although Okocha’s comments were probably aimed higher than Owen Coyle and his coaching staff, they have summed up an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that currently exists among some supporters. For all the noticeable problems encountered by the manager over the last nine months, there remain a good number of people left unconvinced that enough was done to prevent relegation with the players that were available.
Others, judging by messages I have received via Twitter and email, take a more understanding view, pointing out that Okocha probably does not have a firm grasp of the club’s recent financial issues, nor indeed Wanderers’ standing in the general scheme of English football.
But what is clear by both his comments and the more measured views of another Wanderers legend Gudni Bergsson is there is a genuine concern among the club’s fraternity that the future may not be as straightforward as we might like to believe.
It is quite clear the Premier League has changed a great deal, even in the six years since Okocha played his last game for the club against Birmingham City.
Allardyce tapped into the burgeoning Bosman transfer market like no other – bringing in the likes of Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Ivan Campo, Fernando Hierro and Bruno N’Gotty for some glorious Indian summers.
But even as he announced that Okocha and N’Gotty would be leaving the club, there was a hint at what was in store.
Speaking in May 2006, Big Sam stated he wanted to reduce the average age of the squad and bring in some fresh blood. Less than 12 months later, he walked out, leaving Sammy Lee to try and act along similar lines. Suffice it to say, that experiment did not end well.
Gary Megson had to act quickly to steady a sinking ship and, with the exception of perhaps Gary Cahill, plumped for established players with transfer fees and contracts to boot. Survival was secured, but that short-termism would prove a problem further down the line for his successor Coyle and back-up Okocha’s argument.
Debt levels – whether they are owed to Eddie Davies or otherwise – have risen to unsustainable levels for a club the size of Bolton, particularly with incoming financial regulations. So when Coyle embarked on an ambitious effort to keep the club in the top flight while simultaneously reducing the wage bill and average age, it would have been some trick to pull off.
In the Scot’s own words “If one Tim Ream header hits the back of the net, then we’re talking about a different story.”
But it didn’t. Wanderers didn’t get the win they needed on the final day, and so relegation presents an open target for anyone to have a pop at management, past or present.
Oddly enough, Okocha’s view that the club haven’t invested enough in the future comes at a time when they are actually doing just that.
Sizeable cash fees were written off on club record transfer Johan Elmander and considerable wages saved on the large number of injury-plagued players who have since been released.
If everything goes according to the grand plan, then the numbers should make better reading in the future, even outside the bright lights of the top flight.
But whether a drop into the Championship proves just a bump in the road or a slippery slope towards something more sinister is the real root of Okocha and Bergsson’s genuine concern, not to mention the supporters.