Coyle's decision to snub Celtic vindicated by victory over United

To put a new twist on an old slogan Nike dreamed up for Eric Cantona and Manchester United, 1966 was a great year for English football. Owen Coyle was born, right in the middle of the World Cup.
The Scot did not make an immediate impression on the nation's consciousness in his two and a half years south of the border as a player with Bolton in the mid-90s, though he did strike up a friendship with fellow Glaswegian David Moyes, then at Preston. "He was studious about the game even then," Coyle says of the manager who on Sunday follows Sir Alex Ferguson into the Turf Moor cauldron, after the midweek result that made the football world sit up and take notice of events in east Lancashire. "You could tell he would go on to make his mark in management."
And would Coyle in turn have struck Moyes as future management material? "Possibly not as much," the Burnley manager admits. "I was always vocal, I wouldn't say studious. I enjoyed playing the game so much I never wanted to stop. Nothing beats playing, that's why I took a few jobs as player-manager. I wanted to stay involved on the pitch for as long as I could."
If management is a second-best option, however, Coyle did the supposedly predictable Premier League a favour and scaled heights few others will reach in beating United at the first time of asking. Moyes has managed that once in the league in his seven years at Everton, while Wigan Athletic, United's opponents tomorrow afternoon, are in their fifth season in the top flight and have still to beat any top-four side. Coyle takes an obvious pride in his players' achievement on Wednesday, though he is careful to describe the three points as "the same ones we could have won at Stoke" and even more dismissive of suggestions that he out-thought Ferguson.
"We're under no illusions here," he explains. "At their maximum Manchester United would have won. They have quality running right through their team, their movement is terrific and when both teams are at their best we are not as good as they are. United are still my tip to win the league.
"All I said to the lads before the game was that they will not be brilliant every week, and that if we played well we would have a chance. That was how it worked out. United changed their team a bit, we showed the quality we have and I don't think anyone can deny we deserved the three points. Sir Alex was very gracious afterwards."
Robbie Blake, scorer of the goal that knocked the champions out of their stride, can back this up. "No one thought we had a prayer against United, but the gaffer did," he explains. "He was very upbeat before the game, telling us United couldn't possibly play well all the time. He was the same after the defeat at Stoke. He told us we could take a lot of positives from the game, that we hadn't been nearly as bad as people were suggesting, and that we would get results if we carried on playing like that.
"He's very good at building up belief and team spirit, but what he's even better at is keeping your feet on the ground. There's no chance of anyone getting carried away here, we all know we are in for a long hard season and that there's plenty of work to do. Celebrate too much in football and the next minute you fall flat on your face. The gaffer won't let anyone get above their station."
It is hardly surprising Burnley players should show such loyalty to Coyle when he demonstrated his own loyalty over the summer. He could have been Celtic manager by now, and still cannot quite believe he turned down his dream job, but the vacancy came at the wrong time and he felt he owed something to the people who had placed such faith in him.
Plus, having taken Burnley up through the play-offs, he was thoroughly enjoying himself at what the former Celtic captain and manager Billy McNeill rather patronisingly described as a village. "Billy is a pal of mine and the first British player ever to lift the European Cup, so I'm not going to start an argument with him," Coyle says. "You have to put that remark in a context. He didn't mean to insult Burnley, he's just Celtic through and through and always will be. I'm Celtic through and through come to that, I'll be a Celtic fan until I die.
"It was a difficult decision to make but it was made for the right reasons and I'm happy with it. I like what's going on here, what's been achieved. We may be underdogs in most of our Premier League matches, but what difference does that make? It's what happens when you cross the line that counts. And Billy is right in a way, you could fit the entire population of Burnley into Old Trafford. But what that means, per head of population, is that we're the world's best supported football team."
On Wednesday evening, with the famous old ground creaking under the strain of people enjoying themselves, it must have felt like it. "The stadium is a bit ramshackle, but that's the way I like it," Coyle says. "That's the sort of ground I have been brought up on. I'll tell you something else, too. I've played football all over Scotland – Dumbarton, Dundee, Falkirk, St Johnstone and a few others – but wherever I've been on a Saturday there were always buses leaving for the Celtic or Rangers game. All you ever see in Burnley is Burnley tops and scarves. I love that."

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