A snowy morning high up in east Lancashire mill territory and a momentary chill in Owen Coyle's voice to go with it as he reflected yesterday on his own particular motivation to move another mountain by seeing his Burnley side progress beyond Tottenham to the League Cup final, starting with the White Hart Lane first leg tonight.
Coyle would have known exactly how such a Wembley occasion felt if, having played in every round of Bolton's run to Wembley 14 years ago, he had not been dropped for the final by the club's then manager Bruce Rioch for reasons which have always raised some indignation in him. He missed out so that Rioch could accommodate a new buy, he has always believed, and after assistant manager Colin Todd was left the task of breaking the bad news to him, it was as much as Coyle could do to accept the runners' up medal which Rioch eventually offered him, three weeks after Bolton had lost the final, 2-1 to Liverpool. "He said: 'Coyley there's your medal. You played in every round'," he recalled. "I told him I'd played in every round except the one that mattered – the final. I asked him 'Is there three grand appearance to go with the medal?', because that's what we were on at the time. He just left the medal and walked off. Out of respect to my team-mates I wouldn't have left it lying there."
The experience fortified Coyle for his managerial career ahead, contributing to a belief that the way to drop players is to "do it honestly and speak to them before the game". We only have his side of this story, of course and Rioch has rarely been one to hide from a conversation over the years, but the refreshing candour with which Coyle manages has certainly been one of the characteristics of an extraordinary run to the semi-final which has seen first Chelsea, then Arsène Wenger's young guns put to the sword. The third-round win over Roy Hodgson's Fulham is a distant memory already.
Coyle reeled off with relish the list of individuals whose company he has kept en route to tonight's appointment in north London. "Being a so-called younger manager making his way to be pitted already against a World Cup winner, Arsène Wenger twice, if you include the FA Cup [third round] last season, Roy Hodgson, who I have tremendous respect for, and now Harry Redknapp – it's fantastic for my own learning curve," the 42-year-old said. There has certainly been a view in the game for some time that Coyle is a man who is going places; the next after David Moyes, perhaps, in the fruitful Scottish managerial production line.
He had already delivered his last club, St Johnstone, to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup final before he took the Turf Moor job in November 2007, an appointment which encouraged Burnley's operations director and major benefactor Brendan Flood to describe him as "a young Bill Shankly". That is certainly taken some living down but Coyle's background – growing up in a family of nine in Glasgow's Gorbals – bears out the comparison. So does his accent on youth which has driven the Clarets to where they find themselves. Two goals from 20-year-old Kevin McDonald – who rejected overtures from Liverpool and Celtic before leaving Dundee for Burnley in the summer – helped overcome Arsenal, while young midfielders Chris McCann and Chris Eagles, Burnley's £1.2m club record signing from Manchester United and a boyhood Spurs season-ticket holder, flourished in the same game.
Harry Redknapp acknowledged the task he faced yesterday, in the course of insisting that winning the League Cup was more important to him than reaching Europe. "It was the same when I was at Portsmouth last season, winning the FA Cup was more important than getting into Europe," he said. "Believe you me, this will be tough." Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Jermaine Jenas are suspended tonight, while Tom Huddlestone's ankle injury and Darren Bent's groin problem mean they join Alan Hutton on the sidelines. Skipper Ledley King may also rest his knee ahead of the Barclays Premier League match against Wigan at the weekend, with Spurs desperately needing points to climb away from the relegation zone. Fraizer Campbell and Roman Pavlyuchenko, Redknapp's only fit senior strikers, are set to start in attack.
Coyle, whose reputation led to suggestions he might have been the man to succeed Paul Ince over the hill in Blackburn, is without the suspended Steven Caldwell while McDonald is a doubt, with a groin strain. But he intends that his side will play the same expressive game they have throughout, despite the temptation to operate with a home second leg in mind. "If we are focused, and if we get that little bit of luck you need, then the second leg becomes important because we are at home," he said. "But it's only advantageous if we do our job. If we are in the tie coming back to Turf Moor then it's a decent result, but I've not set out any plans to get a 0-0.
"If you are negative in any way they will pick you off. Then to try and come out of your defensive shell and attack is difficult. We will look to commit players forward. The reason I do that is because I believe in the players I've got and the way they play." Spoken with the authority of one who knows from experience that footballers are individuals who need to hear that they are wanted.
Capital punishment: Burnley's cup run
Burnley have enjoyed a season of giant-killing in the Carling Cup and will be looking to add Tottenham Hotspur to their list of London club victims in the semi-final:
*23 Sep 2008 (Third round) Burnley 1 Fulham 0
Substitute Jay Rodriguez pops up to knock a weakened Fulham side out of the Cup.
*12 Nov 2008 (Fourth round) Chelsea 1 Burnley 1 (aet; Burnley win 5-4 on pens)
Burnley fall behind to Didier Drogba's 27th minute strike but Ade Akinbiyi equalises with 20 minutes to go. Despite losing Steven Caldwell to a red card, extra time is goalless and Burnley win on penalties thanks to goalkeeper Brian Jensen.
*2 Dec 2008 (quarter-finals) Burnley 2 Arsenal 0
Two goals from Scottish midfielder Kevin McDonald are enough to teach Arsenal's youngsters a lesson as Burnley ease their way to the semi-finals.