As I write this Crystal Palace are preparing for their away game at Barnsley, knowing that Dougie Freedman won’t be on the touchline. Instead he’ll be in Wolverhampton, watching his new team, Bolton Wanderers at Molineux.
Many Palace fans will feel deeply hurt by Freedman’s decision to leave the club with the team riding high, 4th in Championship and just two points off the top spot.
His decision to leave was surprising because having worked hard over the past two years on a very limited budget he’d managed to build a unified, formidable side that looked set to challenge for a place in the Premier League.
Freedman’s transformed Palace from relegation favourites to promotion chasers and also took them within a penalty shoot-out of Wembley in last season’s League Cup.
At any other point in his managerial tenure nobody would have blamed him for leaving the cash-strapped Londoners for a “bigger club.” But now seems a strange time to make the switch from Palace in 4th to Bolton in 16th.
Under Freedman the Eagles have shown great maturity, style and determination following a poor start to the season. They lost their first three games but turned it around, winning six and drawing just twice in their unbeaten surge up the Championship table.
Bolton on the other hand have struggled to adapt to life in the Championship after a painful final-day relegation from the Premier League last season. At times the Trotters have looked promising but all too often they’ve disappointed. Results under Owen Coyle were inconsistent and it’s easy to see why the Bolton board wanted a replacement.
It’s obvious why Bolton have gone for Freedman. He’s worked wonders at Palace with limited funds and a small squad. He’s been very astute in the transfer market, something that couldn’t always be said of Coyle. Freedman’s also shown plenty of faith in youngsters and appears to be a talented man-manager.
So why has Freedman gone to Bolton?
Yes, Bolton are a bigger club than Palace (though I’m sure many Palace fans would disagree with me), Freedman will probably get more funds to work with at Bolton than he received at Palace and I think it’s fair to say that the Bolton squad, on paper at least, looks stronger than Palace’s.
But I can’t be the only one struggling to understand the timing of Freedman’s departure. He’s left just when his carefully moulded team’s clicked and began turning heads. It’s like spending two years building a model aeroplane then throwing it away before even playing with it.
Freedman has the materials at his disposal at Bolton to get promoted this season and to accomplish more in the long-term than he ever could at Palace.
Having said that, wouldn’t it have looked better on his CV had he taken his carefully nurtured Palace squad into the Premier League? In my opinion promotion with Palace this season, or even a top-6 finish would have triggered job offers from Premier League clubs.
I understand why Crystal Palace fans would be slightly confused by Freedman’s departure but I sincerely hope they remember his enormous contribution to their club over the years. Fans will greet his move with sadness and anger but in the long run I hope they can forgive him because despite his questionable decision to leave Selhurst Park, he’s done enough to merit a warm welcome when he returns there in January.
And who’s to say with the right appointment, Palace’s new manager can’t carry on Freedman’s good work?