Trotters Talent: Part 20 – Three Massive Sales Begin New Era

An exciting new era was afoot with Bolton Wanderers all set to move into brand new stadium, the Eddie Davies Arena, as the 2029/30 season began. But our 10th season in charge of Bolton began with a flurry of big money bids for our academy product talents.

The summer began with three huge sales that surpassed the long-standing club record sale. Centre-back Jack Salter, who came through the club’s youth intake in 2022, finally had enough of being at the club and asked to leave. We managed to get £20 million out of newly promoted Derby County, which surpassed the £15 million Chelsea paid for Nicolas Anelka in 2008.

But out of nowhere, Birmingham came in with a £7 million offer for 19-year-old Lewis Gordon. I had no intention of selling so demanded £25 million, thinking it would scare them off. But it didn’t and we eventually negotiated a £23.5 million sale with a 50% profit on the next sale, which is a ridiculous deal for a player of his quality.

We’d also had interest in fellow academy product midfielder Liu Junyan for the last two years. Most the offers had been derisory, but a £10 million bid from Leeds made the youngster unhappy and he requested a transfer. Newcastle suddenly came in with £12 million, then Brentford made a bid that we negotiated to £20 million with a 30% profit from the next sale.

The sale of Salter was inevitable after several transfer windows of teams chasing him, which culminated in him asking to leave then making me promise to sell him for at least £17.5 million in the winter. So we did well to get £20 million but he’s the one player I believe will genuinely become a Premier League talent. The Gordon and Junyan sales were less expected but I think we had no choice when that much money was offered for players that I already had question marks over. The combined £63.5 million will keep the club going for at least five years and covers most of the £78 million we still owe in loan repayments for the new stadium.

The Salter exit was softened by the return of George Iordache, who outperformed Salter all of last season, for another year on loan from PSG. He was joined in returning to the club by striker Simon Knox, who scored 23 goals last season, from Leeds. Three more loans arrived in Inter Milan’s 6ft 6in centre-back Gil, Norwich’s surprising Essex boy left-winger Wiktor Kowal, and Southampton midfielder Peter Reed-Sorinola.

The big-money exits meant first-team opportunities for more academy products in centre-back Ajah Wray, midfielders Neal Vickers and Peter Agnew, and striker Arran Elliott. While former Arsenal right-back Callum Ansell got a call up to the first-team. And this is how I’m looking at lining us up for the new season.

In other news, Ivor Mulders and chairman Rick Harris have become the fans’ favoured personnel, which I find mildly offensive. I presume the chairman is because of the new stadium? And the media still predict us to finish in 19th this season.

A New Age at Bolton Wanderers

Our 10th season at Bolton, and eighth in the Championship, began at newly promoted Brentford (which came just before the Junyan sale). The summer departures left attacker Solomon Suraka as our main source of excitement and the 17-year-old scored on the opening day to earn a 1-1 draw.

The first game at the 39,153 all-seated capacity Eddie Davies Arena saw Reading come to town. The man who scored the last goal at our former stadium scored the first in the new one as left-back Nana Martin hit a lovely 20-yarder after seven minutes. Reading equalised after 13 minutes but new boy Reed-Sorinola, despite being all left foot, scored a curled right-footed effort from the edge of the box to earn a deserved 2-1 win.

We then had a quick reunion with Gordon as we travelled to Birmingham. The hosts went ahead after 14 minutes but Gil’s first goal for the club levelled it five minutes later. But Martin got sent off 10 minutes before half time, they scored five minutes after the break but substitute Sean Caldwell somehow managed to grab an equaliser with six minutes remaining! Two more draws followed with a dire 0-0 at Blackpool then 2-2 at home to Blackburn, in which Knox scored a brace after Rovers had scored with their first two shots.

After five games, we were unbeaten but only won once and a fifth draw out of six looked likely at home to Sheffield Wednesday. However, a lovely bit of play by Knox teed up Caldwell to score the only goal of a game in which Wednesday did absolutely nothing. But not to worry, another draw followed at Huddersfield despite having 19 shots to their eight. A first defeat looked inevitable at QPR as they battered us in the first-half then took the lead in the first minute after the break. However, Nigel Turner and Gil scored two goals out of nothing to nick a very undeserved 2-1 win!

Club favourite Ryan Cassidy then came to town with Watford. Mulders hit the post with a sitter early on and Cassidy made him pay by scoring Watford’s first shot on 11 minutes. We created nothing so I threw the water bottle at half-time, as well as reducing the passing directness and pushing the back line higher, and it elicited a response as Knox equalised on 52 minutes. From there we dominated but couldn’t score a winner, with Turner hitting the bar coming the closest.

An injury to Reed-Sorinola saw the versatile Caldwell step into centre midfield and scored a screamer to open the scoring at home to Rotherham, then won a penalty that Turner converted. A 2-0 win extended the unbeaten start to 10 games and lifted us to fifth in the league.

That run came under threat at third-place Stoke, who of course scored an absolute screamer with their first shot. Right-winger Mark Parish fired us level after half an hour then, strangely, Stoke took their goalscorer off at half-time. Immediately after the break, Parish sent Knox through to score but Stoke struck back on 63 minutes, then scored two late goals to nick it. And the unbeaten run was done. However, Turner made his 350th league appearance for Bolton in this game!

Two massive rival wins

We were awful in a 0-0 at home to Bristol City and 2-0 loss at Nottingham Forest, but defended superbly to see off a battering from second-place Aston Villa. We then went to Burnley, who won a nonsense penalty, Suraka teed up Knox to equalise, then we won an identical nonsense penalty that Turner tucked home. Burnley seemingly pushed for goals as we scored twice late on through Mulders and Suraka to make the lead comfortable. A 4-1 win at Burnley is huge for this group of players! But the game was overshadowed by young midfielder Peter Agnew breaking his ankle late on, ruling him out for three months.

That gave the boys confidence to claim another huge win in another Lancashire derby. This time four late goals sealed a 5-1 win at Preston thanks to a Iordache brace and goals by Knox and Suraka, who won player of the match for the second game in a row.

Those results suddenly had us firing as we dominated Sheffield United 3-0 to climb back into playoff contention. A 1-1 draw at Charlton saw us through an unbeaten November and earned me the Manager of the Month award, which was my first since August 2026 and third in total.

Big-money new contract

We also began December with a bang as a Suraka brace – making him the first Trotter Talent to score more than once in a game – downed Cardiff 3-0. And this surge in form resulted in the Bolton board offering me a new contract that more than doubled my wages from £10,000-a-week to £23,500-a-week. We celebrated that in front of the TV cameras at Rochdale. Suraka had been in amazing form and showing great progress and continued that by creating two of a stunning four-goal haul by Knox.

The run ended at second-place Palace, where we played really well and were unlucky to lose 2-1 to an 84th-minute winner, then Knox missed a massive later chance to equalise. But we rebounded in style to beat fifth-placed Swansea as brilliant play by Suraka teed up Knox then Parish ran the length of the pitch from a Swansea corner to seal the 2-0 win in the 96th-minute.

We then faced home games against the bottom two clubs. First up was bottom side Sunderland and we won by the same 2-0 scoreline through Knox and Iordache goals. We then faced former player Junyan, plus Liam Cullen and Rob Holding, as 23rd-place Brentford came to town and another Knox goal was enough to nick a poor game.

The great run looked to be ending in the final game of 2029 as Reading took an early lead through, unsurprisingly, a penalty. But we turned it around with two goals in seven minutes from Kowal and Suraka. Absolutely nothing happened after the break and we ended the year with a 2-1 win. And our excellent form in December resulted in Knox winning player of the month and Suraka winning young player of the month.

We ended 2029 with a run of four successive wins, as well as nine wins from the last 11 games. And that shot us up to a ridiculous third in the league on 48 points from 25 games, just three points away from automatic promotion! Surprisingly, we also have the Championship’s second-best attack and defence with 44 scored and 22 conceded. That after selling three of our best young prospects for more than £60 million in the summer and not spending a penny to replace them. Furthermore, we’re also still unbeaten at the Eddie Davies Arena.

The main men behind this success have been the giant centre-back partnership of 6ft 5in Iordache and 6ft 6in Gil, while Knox has 14 goals in 25 games and Suraka has been excellent over the last couple of months with seven goals and seven assists – and we need to try not to sell him!

Join us next time to discover if Bolton Wanderers can maintain this strong form and aim for promotion or – more realistically – try and maintain a playoff push.

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