Bolton manager Owen Coyle wants his players to take strength from the fighting qualities shown by Fabrice Muamba when they return to Premier League action today.
Coyle admits he does not know how Bolton will cope against Blackburn following the trauma endured over the past week, since Muamba suffered the cardiac arrest at Tottenham that nearly claimed his life. However, the Scot does feel Muamba has shown the way by winning his personal battle despite his heart stopping for 78 minutes.
“If Fabrice can show what a battler is, I am sure we can play a football match,” said Coyle. We are a tight-knit group of players. We are trying to build a family club here and Fabrice is a huge part of that. We have to be proud that we are at a fantastic club and do ourselves justice in football terms, knowing our thoughts will be with Fabrice.”
Coyle decided today’s game should be played after consulting Muamba’s father Marcel and fiancee Shauna. And they have released their own statement, expressing their gratitude for the support Muamba has received over the past few days, even though it is clear the 23-year-old’s recovery process will be long.
“Even though Fabrice has made great progress over the last couple of days, he is still in intensive care, and still has a long period of recovery ahead,” read the statement.
“He has asked that you please keep him in your prayers. We would like to thank God for answering our prayers and thank everyone for the love, prayers and support over the past few days.
“In particular we owe an enormous gratitude to the Bolton and Spurs medical teams for their quick reaction on Saturday, and the fantastic team here at the London Chest Hospital. We have been overwhelmed by all the kind messages we have received. The support we have had from the fans, not just from Bolton but football supporters around the world, has given us so much strength.
“We have been particularly touched by the support from the football community globally.”
Nevertheless, it is a big call to fulfil today’s fixture given preparation has undoubtedly been affected, not least because Coyle did not return north from London until Tuesday, having visited Muamba every day since he was rushed to hospital.
Training on Monday was voluntary, so it was not until Wednesday that Coyle and his players were finally reunited.
In the meantime, both Blackburn and QPR have secured precious wins that once again place Bolton in a perilous state, back in the bottom three with their entire Premier League future at stake. Coyle makes light of these concerns though, insisting his team will be fully prepared.
“There is nothing about Blackburn we won’t know,” he said. “(Blackburn manager) Steve Kean is a gem of a lad and was one of the first ones on the phone the other day.
“They have been on a good run and QPR came back against Liverpool. But there are enough games remaining for us to decide what happens to Bolton. We will play to our maximum and see where it takes us.”
Indeed, it may be a relief to get back in the dug-out and escape the attention, even if Coyle has earned himself a lot of friends with the dignified manner with which he has handled the whole unhappy event. Not that he is too interested in that.
“I don’t concern myself with whatever people’s perception is of me,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure Fabrice came through the other side. What people thought about that I really don’t know.”
Kean, meanwhile, hopes today’s clash can be a positive occasion. Kean said: “It’s always easier (to concentrate on the game) when the boy’s making progress. If it had gone a negative way and we didn’t know whether the game was on and then all of a sudden it could have been on at the last minute, it might have been difficult.
“But the fact he’s getting stronger, he’s communicating, I believe he’s even joking and he can recognise everybody, then I think everybody goes into it in a positive mindset. It’s great that he’s getting there and we need to get on with the game.”