This week’s column focuses on Dougie Freedman, as Bruce Halling gives his thoughts on the ex-Crystal Palace manager’s move to Championship rivals Bolton Wanderers.
Bolton’s search for a new manager has come to an end this week, with the announcement that Dougie Freedman is to leave Crystal Palace and take the reins at the Reebok Stadium. The announcement was made by the Selhurst Park club at the beginning of this week, yet it still remains unclear as to when exactly Freedman’s first game in charge will be, with indications that caretaker manager Jimmy Phillips has been tasked with preparing the side for the game with Middlesbrough at the weekend. Whatever the cause of the delay, I am sure that Freedman will eventually be unveiled officially as the club’s new manager.
For me, this is certainly a gamble for Freedman. He has been doing a very good job at Crystal Palace and it is not a surprise that he has attracted interest from other clubs for his services, but I question whether or not this is a move that he necessarily needed to make. There is something really positive happening at Crystal Palace at the moment, with the club moving forwards, the team playing well, and a real sense of enthusiasm and optimism that hasn’t been felt at Selhurst Park for some time and I believe that they are capable of mounting a challenge for promotion this season. There is a genuine opportunity for a well run, well-organised club to exceed expectations this season and reach the promised land of the Premier League, especially given that none of the three teams that have come down over the summer look like they are going to automatically command one of the promotion spots. The way that Crystal Palace have progressed during Dougie Freedman’s time in charge suggests to me that they are such a club, and I would not be surprised if, even without Freedman, Palace don’t continue as they have started this season and end up as genuine promotion contenders as the season comes to a close.
With that said, Bolton are clearly deemed to be the ‘bigger club’. I use the term somewhat loosely in this instance as their performances this season have not exactly backed up either the fact that they are a club who had spent the previous decade in the top flight, nor that they have players of genuine quality within the squad and ought to be much higher in the table than they are at current. Whatever has happened at the club that is holding them back is clearly something that Dougie feels he can change and I suspect the prospect of managing a club of Bolton’s stature, which undoubtedly has the potential to once again become a Premiership club, is something that he felt he couldn’t turn down. I suspect the fact that opportunities such as this don’t often come more than once may well have been a factor in his decision and that he felt that, although he was clearly very happy with life at Crystal Palace, he felt that he wasn’t going to be there forever and that if he turned down this opportunity to progress onto a bigger club that he may not get another one. Of course, I am only merely speculating as to what he may or may not have been thinking, but I suspect that these would have been considerations that he took into account when making his decision to move.
The club itself are in a tricky situation. At current, they still have quite a few players on the books that were a key part of the squad last season. Although the wage bill at the club has been slashed considerably, it would be reasonable to assume that the calculations that have been made this season would have been made in mind of the fact that they would have been expecting to make an immediate return to the Premiership. Another season in this division would presumably mean that the wage bill would need to be looked at again, with the club having to be mindful also of the imminent introduction of the financial fair play rules, so cannot simply spend their way out of a situation. Several of the club’s players may also seek to play their football at a higher level in future if the club are not able to win promotion this season. All of these things, plus keeping an expectant fanbase, sponsors and the boardroom happy will just be part of the job that Freedman will face.
Bolton’s board will obviously have been aware of the different aspects of this job that is going to make it a challenge for whomever they chose to approach, and I believe that they have picked someone who ticks all the boxes. Freedman is a young, ambitious manager who, in his managerial career to date thus far, has shown that he clearly has the ability to do the job required of him and the fact he has taken a club of Crystal Palace’s size as far as he has will have been something that made him a very attractive prospect to Bolton. He also has experience of working to a tight budget, with Crystal Palace not being one of the richest clubs around, so he is clearly able to get the best out of the resources he has available. While at Crystal Palace, he has assembled a good squad of players with a mix of players who bring knowledge, experience and the right character to the dressing room, along with a number of exciting, talented young players who he has been able to persuade to commit to the cause with Palace as helping the club progress will also aid their progression as footballers. Again, his ability in this regard will be something that Bolton value highly.
I believe that Dougie Freedman is the right fit for Bolton. The only question that really remains to be answered is whether Bolton will be the right fit for Dougie Freedman. As I’ve already said, he didn’t need to move, but there is something inherent about a young, ambitious football manager that makes them want to make bold moves, out of what is comfortable and familiar to them and into the unknown. Whether this leap of faith pays dividends for Freedman remains to be seen, but my own suspicions say that this could prove to be a very good move for both Bolton and Freedman.