Monday, October 29, 2012
Ambition fuels Freedman desire
As Dougie Freedman outlined the ideas and the experiences that have propelled him into owning the status of one of the country's brightest young managers, his arguments were underpinned by one word: ambition.
It is a sense of drive, a restlessness and a determination to succeed, that led him to leave a club, in Crystal Palace, where he enjoyed legendary status, for another, in Bolton Wanderers, where he has to start from scratch. It also accounted for his decision to swap the side fourth in the Championship for the team languishing 18th in the table. The Reebok Stadium is where he feels he can realise his ambitions.
"At this time of my career, I feel it was the right move. I have got a long-game strategy to get to the Premier League," Freedman said. At 38, he has time on his side, but has nevertheless set his sights on reaching the Promised Land as quickly as possible. Undeterred by Wanderers' lowly league position, he added: "I don't feel embarrassed to say promotion is the key to the season. These players have huge potential and it is up to me to bring it out. We feel if we can get things right quickly we have a very realistic chance."
Much as relegated Bolton, £110 million in debt, may require an immediate return to the top flight, Freedman said he, rather than chairman Phil Gartside, is adamant Wanderers should go up this season. "I am a young manager in a rush," he said. "I am very ambitious. What I have been given here are the tools to get to the Premier League."
That, according to Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish, is an "obsession" with Freedman. Beyond insisting his family are his priority, it is not something he denies. His reign at the Reebok Stadium begins with meetings with the Championship's top two, Cardiff and Leicester. "It could be worse," Freedman said. "It could be Manchester United and Arsenal. Hopefully it will be next year."
Manchester United help account for his swift rise. While he began his coaching badges a decade ago, he is a comparatively recent addition to the managerial ranks. Freedman inherited a relegation-threatened Palace team in January 2011 and steered them to safety; in the current campaign, he took a side that were 24th at the end of August to fourth in an unexpected ascent of a tough division. Yet the flagship achievement of his time at Selhurst Park - to a wider audience, anyway - was last November's Carling Cup victory at Old Trafford.
Nevertheless, the Championship is Freedman's specialist subject. Much of a playing career that brought him a century of goals in two spells at Palace, besides stints at Wolves, Nottingham Forest and Leeds, has been spent in the second tier.
He has acquired a specialist knowledge and is unafraid to advertise his ability. It is something he believes will stand him in good stead with his new charges.
"When you are in my business, you know how much sleep Chris Eagles gets on a Friday night," he explained, having faced - and beaten - Bolton a month ago. "I study teams at length, I know their strengths and weaknesses and where I can improve them. The only thing I don't know is their personalities. As players and how they go about their business, I know them inside out."
He is aware, therefore, of a slump that dates back 18 months, which the sacked Owen Coyle always denied resulted from the 5-0 FA Cup semi-final thrashing by Stoke. If there are parallels between the Scot - both prolific goalscorers at lower levels before making an initially successful move into management and both optimistic in their rhetoric - Freedman nonetheless established a difference with a veiled criticism of his predecessor's results. And, when he suggested "decline" had set in, there is a statistical case to support him. This is a club that has lost 33 of its last 56 league games, conceding 111 goals in that time.
"We need to make sure the back door is closed," said the poacher turned gamekeeper; a former striker who tightened Palace up defensively. "Hopefully, I can bring that. The club has a mentality of losing games. I am going to try and break that negative cycle and change the mindset. The attitude of the players can change. I feel it is a very strong squad with gifted players."
The mention of Eagles was not coincidental: Freedman has pinpointed the winger as one with the talent to flourish. This is where Bolton may be the antithesis of Palace. A limited group, assembled on the metaphorical shoestring budget, had performed above themselves at Selhurst Park while a more able squad have proved less than the sum of their expensive parts at the Reebok Stadium.
There is another difference. If many a manager wants more power, Freedman will relish having less. "I worked at Crystal Palace when they were in administration and pretty much ran the whole club," he said. "Coming here, all my energy can be put onto the pitch, to working with the players and trying to win games of football."
It is something Bolton have done all too rarely over the past year and a half. Restoring a winning habit to the Wanderers is the first of Dougie Freedman's many ambitions.