The Monday Profile: Chris Eagles
My abiding memory of Chris Eagles came from an otherwise long forgotten episode of ITV’s Football League highlights hosted by Matt Smith dating back about five years or so now. In that favourite director’s technique, players were seen alighting from the team bus and amid the friendly smiles and poised pens for autographs, Eagles stepped down coolly, in possession of headphones the size of which would have shamed the participants of the Live Aid video.
At the times, Eagles was a young buck at Manchester United and it showed. Four loan spells saw him enjoy a decidedly varied impact. Watford fans remember him positively, his Hemel Hempstead birthplace a possible factor in his silky performances in yellow and this was enough to tempt him back to Vicarage Road after an interim sojourn at Sheffield Wednesday wherein I saw him feature for the Owls and practically redefine the adjective ‘languid’.
At the time, I should confess I predicted he would go the way of many a Red Devil kid of yore – a Giuliano Maiorana or Ben Thornley and perhaps not even matching the modest achievements of a Luke Chadwick or Danny Webber – but a 50 yard wonder strike against Brighton was a cornerstone of his second spell with the Hornets even if he was left out for the 2005-6 play-off campaign that saw Watford defeat Leeds 3-0 and reach the Premier League.
The winger was not to join them there – continuing his exhibitionist proclivities at the Dutch club NEC – at the time, Eagles would rarely win awards for tackling back, but his ability, especially from the dead ball was always a dangerous proposition for the opposition.
Credit then Owen Coyle for his renaissance. Free of the right to hand out business cards with M16 0RA thereon, Eagles buckled down under the Scotsman on completing a permanent move to Burnley in 2008. This scouting report from Steve Claridge in the Guardian early on in Eagles’ Turf Moor sojourn highlights the familiar issues of languor, even laziness, but confirms his natural skills.
I saw Burnley win 1-0 despite being outplayed by relegated Reading one chilly October night that Autumn and Eagles did indeed pose a serious threat, even if Brian Jensen was comfortably the most impressive Claret that evening. Seeing Coyle bounding up and down the touchline in thin sweatshirt and skimpy shorts in the tundra-friendly temperatures confirmed the manager’s no nonsense grit and the turnaround he instilled in this player and this team was amazing as the Winter and Spring drew on – Burnley once again faced the Royals the following May, triumphing by a fully merited 3 goals to nil and attaining a Wembley final where they beat Sheffield United.
Eagles’ return to the top rank (he had played six times in Stretford red) was tough although he played in the never to be forgotten 1-0 win over his former employers in the first home game of the 2009-10 season. By the end, and despite an all too late win over Spurs, severe humblings at home to Manchester City and Liverpool has underlined the chasm in class but many hadn’t expected him to play as much as he did – 38 appearances and a successful season on his return to the Championship provoked Coyle to renew their liaison to the south.
The loss of Stuart Holden and Chung-Yong Lee for lengthy spells has hurt Bolton dear this year and relegation has almost crept up on them. Eagles, however, has acquitted himself relatively well since climbing back to the EPL and perhaps benefitted from the absence of these players who also operate in forward areas behind the strikers, even if he lacks their energy and thrust. There is no doubt though that he’ll be one of the last to move on and indeed, it seems possible that few will congregate outside the Reebok exit gate – Wanderers will likely ignore the portentous financial warnings of blogger Swiss Ramble and gamble on a quick return.