Barney nips in with a guest article. He asks the question many are wondering about themselves
Thanks for the article, Barney. Always welcome and always a pleasure…
I don`t think there is much question at the moment, that Dougie Freedman is somewhat fortunate, to still be in charge of Bolton Wanderers. When you note that an experienced coach like Nigel Clough, has been sacked recently for losing four games on the trot, then our manager is surely treading on very thin ice!
However, before we condemn him to the ranks of the unemployed, we should mull over a few pertinent questions.
Let`s try and get one bone of contention out of the way immediately. There are plenty of fans who argue that Dougie got us out of the mess that Coyle left us with last October, and should be allowed to continue doing the job he started. Well, for a start, is that really true? Certainly, we didn`t lose matches after his tenure began, but neither did we win many.
Remember, by January of this year, we were 20th in the league and it was only the introduction of Craig Dawson, that saw the team eventually go on a run of eight winning matches and consequently flirt with a top-six position. Arguably, a position we would have attained with him still in the ranks. Simply put then, is the reality that Dougie merely got lucky with the Dawson signing and it was the latter who really orchestrated any improvement and not the manager!
The jury`s still out on that one.
Possibly, it was a case of a mixture of the two. Certainly, on the field Dawson marshalled the defence admirably. He had the talent and expertise to do so. But, on the whole, I am going to give the manager the benefit of the doubt and say that the improvements we saw in the team`s display, were down to Dougie Freedman!
Having said that, again credit where it`s due. Freedman was able to persuade Dawson to come to the Reebok, in the first place. He possibly didn`t need much persuading, but nevertheless he must have had other suitors as well. It was our manager`s ‘silver tongue` that persuaded Steve Clarke in the first place to let him go and Dawson, along with a number of others later on, to eventually sign.
Indeed, when it comes to oratory, our manager is pre-eminent! He can be very persuasive in his arguments and comes across as being full of knowledge, experience and self-confidence, even for someone of his tender years. And that is how it should be! But actions inevitably speak louder than words. We must ask ourselves, is it all just empty rhetoric?
As an illustration, this is where I took issue on occasions with Dougie last season, over what I believed to be fatuous comments. Either that, or I`m slowly losing my marbles! He argued on one occasion, (Brighton at home) that we dominated a game without possession. And at the time, I seem to remember any number of commentators and fans agreeing with him in a rather sycophant-like manner (or were they just clutching at straws?)
That, I will never understand! Not from so-called football people! Don`t tell me that we want to see Bolton Wanderers playing at the Reebok, without the ball!….No way!……Although I do admire Freedman in many respects, that sort of post-game comment made me more than a little suspicious.
Some ‘pre-Freedman problems`, don`t seem to have disappeared or improved any, after twelve months. Any number of players, still don`t give 100% for ninety-minutes and heads drop quickly, after set-backs during a match. The team never boss a game for more than one half. Strikers don`t score enough (any) goals! To some extent, we still lack creativity in mid-field, and defenders don`t defend properly. And, while we are on the subject, I don`t think it`s good enough just to trot out the old cliché, about it being a team game and we all need to defend! We need a good defence, full-stop! And with cards on the table, our central defenders simply lack the necessary quality!
However, is it really the manager`s fault (other than picking them), when players make individual mistakes. This is indeed always contentious, but can be indicative of a variety of problems, from indifferent coaching to a lack of confidence and ability. Bogdan`s howler against Yeovil was one such example. Very unfortunate, but also very expensive in terms of points lost! But as the saying goes, ‘once they cross the white line`, there`s not a lot the boss can do! It`s literally out of his hands!….Or is it?
Without a change of players, I cannot see how this situation will radically alter. The manager swears that he and his staff work their socks off trying to put these glaring inadequacies right. But, the question is, are Dougie and the rest of them on the right lines? Are they up to scratch? Have they really got the answers?
It`s true that most of Bolton`s players were signed by Owen Coyle. Therefore, it`s difficult to severely criticise the present coach, for not producing a successful team with someone else`s players. But, Dougie does have a smattering of his own lads in there, and there`s plenty of evidence from the past of others who have done it! People with the talent, experience and expertise, that is!
No doubt, empathy is a great teacher, and if we put ourselves in his shoes, we should try to understand some of the constraints he works under. For me, the £500,000+ salary, is almost an irrelevance! Contentious I know, and it will ruffle a few feathers, but I can`t see him being any the less motivated, if he were on a quarter of that. I believe he is a fully committed and proud professional, no matter what!
Having reiterated that he has to pick mostly Coyle`s players, some of them are good and some are not! Some try and some don`t! But has Dougie himself, bought well?…..
“Yes and no”, is the answer! To his credit, he has brought in some good players, for next to nothing – Hall, Medo, Tierney, Baptiste and hopefully Moritz, to name a few. On the other hand, some of his loanees have been less than impressive. As a striker, Jermaine Beckford has been an unmitigated disaster! And a complete waste of precious funds! I suspect most fans could readily have told him that in June!
Dougie has no money to spend and if he had, then he is still constrained by the ‘Financial Fair Payments` league! Even though, it appears that others are not, such as OPR and Nottingham Forest! But, could this be another huge ‘con` to deflect criticism from the powers that be at the Reebok! Personally, I think not! I`m prepared to believe that we are stoney-broke! However, how we got into that predicament in the first place, is another matter entirely!
Perhaps then, the only way forward is a coherent youth policy. In the past, both Freedman and Coyle, have protested that they have put an effective youth programme in place, that will serve the club well in the future. They put their complete faith in this conveyor belt, with the promise that it will lead to success in ‘X years` time`! They are to be heartily applauded for this, but of course, we`ll have to wait to see it reach fruition. I have to say that I am sceptical! But if anyone can do it, I believe Freedman is the man to succeed here.
In the meantime, what do we do?….Do we need a quick fix?
To some extent, you have to say that we do. In the same way that Dawson filled the bill last season. The alternative may be relegation! We do need two or three quality players in key positions, at the back and up front, to get results and raise confidence. Maybe Dougie signed them last week in Feeney, Danns and McNaughton! You never know! Certainly, Feeney did himself no harm and showed decent ability and bags of energy and commitment. And we now know he can take a throw in! What a plus that could be (particularly with Knight at centre-forward…ho! ho! ho!)……Or with hindsight, should we have kept SKD!
On a more serious note, some will vigorously argue that the manager should go now. That he just doesn`t possess the nous to move Bolton forward. That he is a bag of wind, basically and should be replaced. But even if there was someone out there and available (other than Nigel Clough), that policy would be very expensive (as I`m sure Sunderland are about to find out). If we have any spare cash at the moment, I`d rather see it spent on the team, than paying off present staff and purchasing new!
So, after all that, does Dougie Freedman pass the ‘acid test`? In other words, does he possess the attitude, charisma, intellect and determination to succeed at the Reebok?
Well, despite our obvious problems, I am going to say that he does, and I`m in favour of retaining his services. We must take into account his past record at Crystal Palace and also the second-half of last season, when we were almost unbeatable. He did make mistakes, particularly in the match against Blackpool, but he has a wealth of experience in the Championship and understands its vagaries better than most.
I do worry that his teams don`t seem to score enough goals, but arguably, he has had to concentrate on improving the defences at both clubs for survival. At the Reebok that has not been an easy task, with no transfer money to help and is obviously still a work in progress.
I am also critically aware that both Zaha and Dawson have played a big part in his ‘success` so far and to some extent may have masked his real ability. But the reverse also applies.
Finally, we need him to stay for the duration. I like him as a person and have faith in his commitment and ability to turn the club around, sooner rather than later. Certainly, his utterances connect with the average supporter. He will of course, have to do it without sufficient funds, in the immediacy. But, he will come out the other side, all the better for it and develop into a good manager for this club in the future. Indeed, we may be arguing two or three years down the line, how we are going to keep him!