Bolton Wanderers brought Sammy Lee's miserable four-month spell in management to an end yesterday after inquiring about Chris Coleman's availability.
The approach to Coleman's representatives was made through a third party on Tuesday as Phil Gartside, the Bolton chairman, prepared to announce that club and manager had parted "by mutual consent" after a torrid start to the season which was compounded by a major falling out between Lee and his most senior player, Gary Speed.
Speed's ideas on who is best equipped to steer Bolton from their current position may well curry favour with Gartside, who has sided with him in his dispute with Lee, and the midfielder's Welsh compatriot Coleman, well known to him from the Wales set-up, would be appealing. Coleman's Real Sociedad side have rallied after a bad start in the obscurity of Spain's Segunda Liga and walking out on the passionate Basque fans after four months would be difficult. But Coleman's family have remained in Britain and the prospect of a prompt return to the Premier League, with a considerably higher salary, might prove irresistible.
"He [Coleman] loves it there and has blended into the life but the Premier League has attractions for managers," Coleman's agent, Alan Smith, said yesterday. But Bolton might have to move fast. John Toshack's tenure at Wales is widely believed to be reaching an end and that post may conceivably be dangled before Coleman, too.
Though Paul Jewell – whom Gartside is also known to admire – has been installed as the favourite to replace Lee, Bolton do not appear to have approached the former Wigan boss beforehand. Those who know Jewell best believe that the Bolton job may conceivably hold too many of the same financial limitations which ultimately led him to walk away from the JJB Stadium last May. But the 43-year-old, who flew to Dubai with his family yesterday morning to combine some television work with a short holiday, has also told friends that he wants to be back in the game, eradicating suggestions that he left Wigan because of top flight football's effect on his health. "There's a feeling that rejecting too many jobs will give rise to the impression that he is happy to be out of the game," said one source. Jewell is understood to have declined an offer from Norwich City recently.
Another option for Gartside would be to appoint Speed – who recently agreed to an assistant manager's contract but did not sign when relations with Lee became severely strained. But with Bolton second bottom of the Premier League with a solitary win out of 14 from Lee's tenure, that would constitute a huge gamble and the notion of Coleman working with Speed seems far more feasible.
For Lee, the Bolton post represented a top job at last, after 14 years as a coach. Gartside promised a more appetising type of football under him than that of Newcastle-bound Sam Allardyce. But Lee alienated many of those around him. There was dismay at the treatment of Ricky Sbragia, the former Manchester United coach, who was severely marginalised and later reinstalled as first team coach at the players' behest. Lee's decision not to name Ivan Campo, a Champions League winner with Real Madrid, in the club's 25-man Uefa Cup squad was bizarre. So was the decision to omit Speed and captain Kevin Nolan from the squad to face Chelsea.
It had been thought that Lee might have been granted two more games (including Saturday's visit to Arsenal) to prove himself. But Gartside opted for an immediate parting of ways, buried under the cover of last night's international in Moscow.