Bolton Wanderers must do better in 2012

Nine wins in 37 Premier League games in 2011, rock bottom in the table with 13 points, four from safety, Bolton Wanderers are limping in to 2012. When their current financial concerns are also taken in to consideration, Bolton appear to be on the rope. The next 12 months may provide the knockout blow.

With debt in excess of £110m and rising, Bolton are reliant on their Isle of Man based owner Eddie Davies to keep them afloat, with the bulk of the debt owed to him, via his company Moonshift Investments Limited. By increasing his shareholding from 29.7% to 94.5% in 2003, Davies effectively rescued the club, who had accumulated significant debt in building the Reebok Stadium, an adjoining hotel and offices.

In recent years, wages have almost doubled and attendances have dropped, their match day revenue remains paltry and Bolton recoup very little in player sales. Bolton chairman Phil Gartside has explained the lack of funds generated by transfer market activity, claiming that; “We are not a selling club, but a trading club.” Bolton’s summer transfer dealings were pretty shrewd, with the sales of Ali Al Habsi and Matt Taylor more or less covering the cost of Chris Eagles, Tyrone Mears and David N’Gog, with loan signings and free transfers brought in to replace their departures.

In amongst these transactions, Johan Elmander, Bolton’s record signing at £8.2m, was allowed to leave the club for nothing and Bolton are unlikely to make the same mistake again with Gary Cahill’s contract expiring. A deal with Chelsea is likely to be concluded when the January transfer window opens, albeit at around £7m, less than half his £15m summer price tag. If it cannot be renegotiated, £14.5m of Bolton’s considerable debt is due to be repaid at the end of February and they may rue holding on to their star turn for the past few months. It has certainly not benefitted either the team or the player.

In recent years, Bolton have spent sizeable sums acquiring Elmander and Cahill, plus the likes of Zat Knight, Fabrice Muamba and Gretar Steinsson, while only the sales of Nicolas Anelka and Kevin Nolan have generated respectable returns. This summer, Bolton are likely to encounter their biggest turnover of playing staff yet, with as many as 11 senior contracts expiring.

Cahill aside, Martin Petrov, Ivan Klasnic, Robbie Blake, Jussi Jaaskelainen, Zat Knight, Sean Davis, Kevin Davies, Ricardo Gardner, Paul Robinson and Sam Ricketts are all in their thirties and are may struggle to earn new deals. If Bolton were relegated, losing most of their big earners may prove to be a blessing in disguise, although should they retain their Premier League status, they have a massive rebuilding job on their hands. Owen Coyle is attempting to use the situation to his advantage by challenging his players to earn new contracts in the coming months, but his position is every bit as precarious.

With a failing business model haemorrhaging funds, an aging, underperforming team that highlights a chronic lack of foresight and pressing debt concerns, Bolton will need to start punching above their weight once again in the new year. If their eleven year stay in the top flight comes to an end, the absence of Premier League TV money, which provides around 70% of their income, would leave them in dire straits.

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