Ade Akinbiyi: Coyle was able to lift everyone when he took the Clarets up
OF the 151 career goals Ade Akinbiyi scored two stick out, and both of them are with Burnley.
The first was during his first spell – the second of three against Luton on November 5, 2005, when the Clarets played with 10 men for 55 minutes and he blasted his to a hat-trick.
The second turned out to be his last goal for the Clarets. But it was some note to end on, stepping off the bench to cancel out Didier Drogba’s opener for Chelsea to earn extra time and a penalty shoot-out at Stamford Bridge, which underdogs Burnley went on to win and deliver a knockout blow to the Premier League billionaires.
The Clarets carved a return to compete against such esteemed opposition through their play-off win at the end of that season.
By that time, Akinbiyi had gone. But he was not forgotten, with then manager Owen Coyle commissioning an additional play-off winners’ medal to deliver to the striker following his move to Houston – recognition for his second Clarets’ coming and the part he had played in promotion.
Few would have anticipated that outcome given their efforts in the previous two seasons.
Akinbiyi returned in the January of the 2006/07 season under Steve Cotterill, at a cost of £750,000 – £150,000 more than the last time and £1million less than the fee paid by Sheffield United.
He scored on his second debut, a 3-2 FA Cup defeat at Reading.
It was in the early stages of a 19-game winless run.
“It wasn’t happening for us and it was very frustrating. As players we just couldn’t believe that we couldn’t win one game in that time,” said Akinbiyi, who was under strict instructions to trim down after getting too muscle-bound while out of the Blades’ picture.
“It gets into your head after a while. You start counting it ‘eight games now, nine games now’ and the more people talk about it the more it puts us under pressure. But it just went on and on and on.
“We all still believed in each other. There were no cracks or rows, no-one said they’d had enough.
“There was no fall-out in the camp. All we could do was keep going, and we did.
“Steve still believed in us all the same.
“We were all so focused, training hard every day and trying to do our best every game.”
Burnley eventually turned their form around to win five of their last eight games.
The following season got off to a good start, with a 2-1 win at home to West Brom, but for more than a month from the end of September wins proved hard to come by again and defeat at home to Hull City spelled the end of Cotterill’s reign.
Akinbiyi had to do his research about his successor. Owen Coyle was little known to anyone south of the border bar Bolton Wanderers fans. But that would soon change as he made a name for himself at Turf Moor.
“He had a drive about him. He gets mad in the changing room if things aren’t going right and kicks things," he said.
“He did it quite a lot to be honest, when he wasn’t happy.
“He had a false tooth that used to come loose so you knew then that he was really mad.
“But I enjoyed working with him for his motivation, he knew what he wanted and he just drove it through the team.
“He lifted everyone. Obviously it wasn’t a good ending, but he had got the club up.”
He had helped Akinbiyi start a new adventure in the United States too, after assuring the striker he would listen to offers before the end of Burnley’s promotion season.
“I just wanted to try something different, and go abroad,” said the 39-year-old, who joined Major League Soccer side Houston Dynamo.
But it was too hot to handle.
“Everyone warned me about the weather and that I would struggle out there,” he continued.
“I didn’t take any notice, but I got out there and the humidity was unbelievable.
“The manager tried to get me used to it slowly, bringing me on as a sub.
“But every time he put me on within 20 minutes I was just sweating and finding it hard to breathe.
“The manager could see that I was struggling and after about six or seven months I just called it a day. It was the right thing for both of us.”
Akinbiyi’s career continued in England with Notts County, where he was ultimately reunited with Cotterill and added another promotion to his CV before he hung up his professional boots.
They were dusted off last season for a few run-outs with Conference North club Colwyn Bay, but he has since decided to turn his attentions to coaching.
There are no designs on management though. With academy commitments in Africa, a bid to save his old borough team Hackney, church and community work – encouraging children into sport, and the impending launch of a bespoke suit clothing company, there just aren’t enough hours in the day for the father-of-three.
Besides, he has seen what the stresses of being boss have done to his former Leicester and Burnley team-mate Frank Sinclair.
“It’s no wonder he’s got a haircut. Mine’s going grey but his definitely is with the amount of stuff you’ve got to do. It’s a massive eye-opener for me what he does. The higher up you go there are people there to help you, but he organises everything!” said Akinbiyi, who is impressed with the job Sinclair is doing in north Wales, and the route that he is taking into management, convinced that the former Chelsea ace is blazing a trail not only for black managers, but fledgling ones.
“In another year or two if he’s still doing all right he might go into League Two but at the moment he’s doing what he has to do to get where he wants to go and not make a big leap.”
If Sinclair was to make the step up into the Football League now, he would be the only black manager.
But Akinbiyi does not believe there is prejudice in the game and does not feel the need for American football’s Rooney Rule – whereby a minimum of one minority candidate is interviewed for a head coach job – should be rolled out in the English game.
“I believe if you want something go and work hard for it and go and get it, don’t moan about it. Don’t say ‘no-one’s giving me this because of this reason’,” he said.
“At the end of the day it’s up to you. If you want something go after it. And then, if you’ve tried everything, and you’ve proven yourself, then you can question it if it hasn’t happened.
“Everything should be on merit. That’s the way I look at it.”
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