The decline and fall of Wanderers' £3.2m flop Sordell
AS legend has it at Wanderers, one phone call was all it took to make Marvin Sordell put the brakes on a move to Cardiff City and head north for Premier League football at Bolton.
Time was ticking on January transfer deadline day 2012 as Owen Coyle searched frantically for someone to bolster his struggling side’s attack. Having already been knocked back by Crystal Palace for Wilfried Zaha and Blackpool for Matt Phillips, the Scot’s last throw of the dice had to count.
Sordell had a solid, if unspectacular, scoring record at Watford and had forced himself on to the fringes of England’s Under-21 side.
But two-and-a-half years on, the last-minute deal that convinced Sordell to turn down his former Watford mentor Malky Mackay, then in charge at Cardiff, and link-up with the Whites for £3.2million will probably be regretted by club and player alike.
The youngster had been pulled out of the Hornets side to face Millwall and was being driven across the capital, heading for South Wales, when word from Wanderers arrived.
People close to the deal at the time said negotiations were swift and simple. Bolton had blown Cardiff’s offer out of the water – and a swift change in direction saw paperwork being shuffled at the Reebok until the early hours of the morning to get the deal ratified by the Football Association.
It was a case of back-patting all round when Sordell’s deal was finally announced. The Bolton News described it as a “transfer coup,” while Coyle, pleased with his poaching, spoke of his delight at capturing a player with “great potential” ahead of a handful of top-flight sides.
Less than 24 hours after the transfer, Sordell was wheeled out in front of the local press, describing his decision to turn down Cardiff as a “no brainer.”
But from that sweet arrival, it quickly went sour for the youngster who found himself restricted to three cameo appearances from the bench in the next four months, the last of which was as the Whites’ relegation was confirmed at Stoke City.
Sordell at least had something to take his mind off the disappointment after being selected by Stuart Pearce for the Team GB squad at the London Olympics.
His selection had been a surprise, even to Wanderers and Watford fans, but he fared quite well, striking the post against Senegal and starting the game against the United Arab Emirates.
Relegation to the Championship should have been the making of the young striker but despite scoring his first Bolton goal in a 2-2 draw with Nottingham Forest, he failed to find favour under Coyle once more.
Sordell’s unhappiness was compounded when he reported racial abuse by a young Millwall fan while warming up in a 2-1 defeat at The Den in October 2012, also Coyle’s last game in charge.
Millwall made sure the fan was excluded from the ground and he later made an apology to Sordell – but the unpleasantness had already been magnified on social media and was played out in the national newspapers for several weeks after that.
By the time Dougie Freedman arrived, Sordell’s “homesickness” had already become an issue that Wanderers could not solve.
The manager attempted to curb the player’s use of Twitter – joking he had even resorted to confiscating his phone. Indeed, the crack down on social media use brought in at that time exists to this day.
And we did see the benefits, as Sordell got his Bolton career briefly back on track with a cluster of goals in New Year 2013, including a brace to knock Sunderland out of the FA Cup.
He also channelled his energies into the Marvin Sordell Foundation – a charity he set up to promote awareness of human trafficking.
But while the young man came across as an intelligent and altruistic type off the pitch, he struggled to get to grips with Freedman’s squad rotation system and his impact on it diminished quickly.
Wanderers needed to cut some costs and so it came as little surprise to see Sordell farmed out on loan to Charlton – curing the apparent homesickness issue that had been raised by Freedman months earlier.
Sordell got some first-team opportunities at The Valley, making 22 starts for the South Londoners, but failed to impress under Chris Powell. It was only after the former England defender left, to be replaced by Belgian Jose Riga, that he found his spark again.
He finished the season with an impressive hat-trick against Sheffield Wednesday, prompting Wanderers fans to question whether he could resume his Bolton career.
Things had changed in his absence, however, and with Freedman looking to build on what he had last season, including a return for Lukas Jutkiewicz, it was clear there was no way back.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche, another former associate of Sordell’s at Watford, sensed a bargain at £500,000 – less than a sixth of what was paid to the Hornets – and has now taken the striker back to the Premier League for another shot.
It is a price tag – and perhaps a level of expectation – that should be easier to handle for the 23-year-old. For Wanderers, many believe it is a cautionary tale of doing swift business on transfer deadline day.