Bolton Wanderers: Donnelly or Howser
This isn't an initial go at our new manager. Every manager that has been appointed since Bruce Rioch left for The Arse all those years ago hasn't really had a CV to speak of. Some had managed clubs beforehand, but none of Todd, Allardyce, Lee and Coyle had spent a lot of time in the managerial arena at the top level. Coyle may have had some success with Burnley but the hindsight that has come to pass since his reign ended would suggest that the palms that we laid at the feet of his donkey on that January day should have been kept on the trees. His veritable crucifixion at the hands of some Bolton fans this season will bring an end to this Easter analogy.
The one manager who could be said to have had some success at the top level was the one manager the fans didn't want. The collective banging of heads upon desks when Gary Megson was appointed could be heard all the way to West Bromwich, where he had had his best times as a manager. So, the appointment of Freedman is not a strange one by the board. Or, to be more specific, Phil Gartside. And if you were to quantify it in terms of excitement by Bolton fans, you would place it half way between the reception received by the messiah and the pariah, who were the last two managers. He does, after all, have more managerial experience than Sammy Lee did. Or does.
Should Jimmy Phillips have been given more time to stake a claim for the job? Probably, if he actually wanted it. As has been said more than once elsewhere, he has the necessary two points per game that is needed to go back up and one of them a particularly hard fought one. But the last time a caretaker manager did well at the club, he was overlooked for Big Sam and that didn't turn out so bad.
So, what do we get with Dougie Freedman. We have a manager of barely eighteen months experience and a total of ninety games under his belt. He has a win ratio of 35.5% which sits nicely if compared to the last three managers, although he has to go some to match the three previous incumbents of the hot seat before that, if you disregard Roy McFarland, as many do. He beat Stretford at Old Trafford, something which his predecessor never looked like doing, and managed to keep a threadbare squad in the Championship last season and started this season well.
So, those are the pros. The cons? His relative inexperience, whilst not unusual, cannot be ignored. Being young and hungry are nice, but in managerial terms I could still be called young and hungry.
'Dougie is young and ambitious. When we met his enthusiasm and knowledge of the game was evident. He has a real drive and passion, and knows what we want to achieve and how we want to go about it.' said Gartside today. The only thing that most will be interested in is the going about it bit.
As I said in the earlier article, the past two games have shown that the team have the ability to a) play well and b) come back from adversity, two things sorely lacking a) this season and b) in the past eighteen months. To keep this run going it is probably essential that Dougie gets the ear of Jimmy P, Little Sam and Julian Darby. I have no issue with him bringing in his own men who he had worked well with before. Most managers do that. However, he cannot make the same mistake that OC made by not involving those at the club who know about the club. The Academy staff are mostly ex Bolton players and he would do well to listen to all of them, as long as he can get Zico to speak in sentences with full stops. It may be that they revert to their old jobs, but the Academy should be ring fenced and out of the manager's reach. It is the club's future and is showing signs of being able to provide players for the club. To mess around with it would be barmy.
However, the current success of the youth set up should show Dougie what a good set of coaches he has there, and he would be barmy not to involve them. Little Sam has proved himself as one of the best assistants in the business and is in the unique position of having absolutely no chance of ever taking the manager's seat if Dougie is ever 'moved on'. You don't take one of your best assets and then lock it in the back room. The title 'Academy Manager' has always been a misnomer anyway. Jimmy P is the boss of that little domain. It doesn't need two.
So, I meet the appointment of Dougie with a degree of ambivalence. I am neither jumping through hoops, nor looking for the nearest tree to hang a noose. As such, there is no artificial expectation to the job he will do which, in a way, hamstrung both his immediate predecessors.
And that, I suppose, is what makes it a good appointment. Welcome to Bolton, Dougie. We don't bite.