I suppose, when you have already been halfway around the world together, it is the kind of thing you can just casually drop into conversation.

Still, though, when Sandy Stewart picked up the phone to Owen Coyle after becoming a grandfather for the first time, the curveball that followed congratulations left him in a spin.

“We’ve been everywhere with each other,” Coyle said. “He’d just had his first grandchild. I phoned up to say: ‘Congratulations. You think it’s brilliant having your own kids, but when these grandchildren come along, it’s amazing. Listen, while I’ve got you: do you fancy coming to India?’

“That was 100 per cent the conversation. Sandy choked: ‘India?! Karen [his wife] won’t let me go there!’

“I told him to take a few days to think, that it was only 11 weeks. The next day, he phoned back to tell me Karen said it was OK.”

Permission slips signed, Coyle and his trusted assistant were to embark on an unlikely adventure that was to take an even more unlikely turn. This was the second time struggling Chennaiyin had tried to make him their manager, and they needed some experienced intervention now more than ever. Bottom of the Indian Super League, their director of football again picked up the phone to Coyle, convinced he was the man for a rescue mission.

“I looked at the team and they had good players,” Coyle recalled. “A few Brazilians, and their games had been quite tight.”

Why not, then? It was only 11 weeks after all…

“That 11 weeks turned into 16,” Coyle said with a wry smile. “We took them from the bottom into the top four for the play-offs. We beat the team who won the league to get to the final.”

If I remind you all this took place from December 2019 onwards, you can probably guess what’s coming next. That story on the news about a virus that we had all been vaguely aware of suddenly turned the world on its head. It could hardly have come at a worse time for Coyle and his team, whose sudden renaissance had been fuelled by an ever-growing army of fans – 25,000 at last count.

The Herald: 'We thought Covid was going to settle down after a few months''We thought Covid was going to settle down after a few months' (Image: Colin Mearns)

“Just before the final was when Covid really hit,” Coyle recalled. “They decided it was going to be behind closed doors. It was brilliant but also a bit of an anti-climax without any supporters.

“When we went in, they had 5000 at the previous game. The last game we played before Covid, there were 25,000 – people follow winning teams.”

It was to be the end of Coyle’s brief but memorable stint with Chennaiyin, but he was, very understandably, not yet ready to depart India. When considering his next move, however, he made the same assumption as most of the rest of us: “We thought Covid was going to settle down after a couple of months.”

Coyle had been ‘inundated’ with offers, including from an intriguing outfit named Jamshedpur. In Burnley, Bolton Wanderers and now Queen’s Park, he has managed at some of the world’s oldest clubs, but this was an altogether different challenge. When he agreed to take over, Jamshedpur had been in existence for just three years.

The Indian Super League itself was also in its infancy. Created in 2014 to run alongside the now-defunct I-League, it has since become the top tier in the country’s football pyramid. If all this wasn’t enough of a culture shock, the upending of society caused by the pandemic certainly was.

“The next two years with Jamshedpur, the whole league took place in a bio-bubble in Goa,” said Coyle. “Goa is a beautiful part of the world, lovely people. We were in a beautiful hotel, but all you could do was go from the hotel to training and back, go to a game and back.

“We had about 30 in our bubble, but there were also five or six hotel staff who couldn’t go anywhere. We couldn’t interact with anybody. That in itself was a challenge, but the football being played help us through it.

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“You can imagine, though… we train at Queen’s Park and sometimes there can be argy-bargy with players, but afterwards everyone gets to go home and it’s forgotten about the next day.

“But when you’re over there in the bubble, let me tell you, nothing is forgotten about! It’s 24/7. It’s different challenges, different things to deal with. In the main, though, the football was great.”

The less-than-ideal setup will have been made infinitely better when you’re winning matches, and Jamshedpur did plenty of that under Coyle. Despite their tender years, he was able to lead the club to a maiden ISL title which was, in relative terms, one of the biggest achievements of his career.

“To win the league with Jamshedpur is probably the equivalent of St Mirren – who are a fantastic club – beating Celtic and Rangers to the Premiership,” he said. “But, after that, it was probably time to come back. Two years in a bio-bubble, it was testing and trying, to be honest, plus I had two grandkids.

“I’d been party to what was happening at Queen’s Park from the outset. I knew what the plan was, going from amateur to professional and trying to move through the leagues.

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“I could’ve come on board at the very start, but there were other things I wanted to do and India was one of them. I just felt, coming back, that it was the right time.”

Young Scottish players trying their hand abroad has been a growing trend these past few years, one Coyle would like to see extend to coaches. Now 56, he reflects on India not only as a fine footballing adventure, but as an invaluable life experience.

“It was fantastic,” he insisted. “We have fantastic coaches and managers in Scotland, I’ve always said I thought that part of doing your Pro Licence should be learning a foreign language. Scottish coaches are capable of going anywhere in the world and doing very well.

“We understand people, we have a good nature and we know the game inside-out.”

If his foray across the globe was a remarkable but, ultimately, finite one, his latest venture feels far more long-term. Queen’s Park have been accused of spending to fast-track success but, as he outlined in part one of our interview, there is plenty investment being made in the future of their academy and training ground. Coyle speaks at length about youth development in Scotland, and recently reported figures about the dearth of U-21 players being given opportunities in the Premiership did not pass him by.

The Herald: 'party to what was happening at Queen’s Park from the outset''party to what was happening at Queen’s Park from the outset' (Image: Colin Mearns)

There appears to have been an uptick in English clubs muscling into Scottish academies and luring the best talent down south, the Premier League dream obviously being a hard sell to resist. But Coyle has a sneaking suspicion that many of these kids are heading for the bright lights of English football before they’re really ready for it. He believes this is where Queen’s Park can offer an alternative path.

“James McCarthy and James McArthur were the perfect example,” he explained. “Those kids, when they left Hamilton, they were ready for the next step on their journey. Sometimes, I think, clubs are selling kids far too early on their journey.

“They’ll go to big clubs in England, and I understand why they do – there’s big transfer fees. But, are they ready at that time? It’d be fascinating to look at that, percentage-wise, because more often than not, they’re coming back.

“If they had the 100 games, or whatever those kids had at Hamilton, then they’re ready for that step into the high echelons of English football.

“Our hope at Queen’s Park is they play that amount of games at a high level. Then, when it’s time for them to spread their wings and move on, they’re ready.”

It’s a firmly-held belief, and one rooted in Coyle’s personal experience. A skinny teenager long overdue taking a stretch, he turned down the opportunity to join Dundee United. He ended up there  for a not-inconsiderable fee a few years down the line – much to Jim McLean’s eternal annoyance – and believes that initial show of patience was a pivotal moment in his career.

“I was really lucky, I was 5’4 until I was 18,” he said. “I was supposed to sign for Dundee United when I was 13. My two brothers Joe and Tommy were at Dumbarton.

“Sean Fallon was the managing director there and he came to see my dad at our house in the Gorbals. He told my dad: ‘Young Owen is better served down at Dumbarton with us, his brothers can keep an eye on him.’

“My dad said I was signing for Dumbarton. And that was fine with me.

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“Jim McLean, mind you, he never forgave me. United eventually bought me from Bolton for £450,000 and he reminded me every day: ‘I could’ve had you for nothing!’

“But I always said to Jim they wouldn’t have, because at 16 I would’ve been released at Dundee United, I’ve no doubts, and I might never have played again, who knows? They would’ve looked at me and thought: ‘He’s a good little player, but I’ve got a good big player who’s ready right now’.

“Dumbarton allowed me to potter away in the reserves until I was ready to play. There’s an element of being in the right place at the right time.”