Inside Croydon’s man perched at the Holmesdale End, GOLDIE, says that Dougie Freedman has his work cut out to be more a Coppell than a Kember
As Crystal Palace fans rejoice at the prospect of “one of their own” leading the club in to the second half of another troubled season, there can be no doubt that the perhaps sentimental decision to appoint Dougie Freedman as manager is a calculated risk.
Freedman is no stranger to a relegation battle. It was Freedman who scored the goal in the final game of the 2000-2001 season at Stockport. He came close to repeating such heroics away at The Valley when in the Premier League in 2005, only for Palace to be relegated from the top flight with minutes to go.
And last season, Freedman returned to Selhurst Park with the club in administration, cutting his playing time short to take a job as Paul Hart’s assistant, culminating in a breath-taking “winner takes all” showdown at Hillsborough, with Freedman and Palace once again leaving it late to survive.
Freedman now has 18 days of the January transfer window and 21 games to keep the club up once again. Freedman’s first job is to bring in his own coaching staff, which is expected to be completed in the days following Saturday’s trip to Swansea. “We will also be adding some ‘older heads’ to bring some experience as Dougie’s assistants and these will be announced in due course,” co-owner Steve Parish has said.
At the same time, the new gaffer will be busy assessing his squad. If he did not already know, it is a squad which lacks experience, depth and confidence. Palace may no longer be financially ruined, but it is unlikely that there will be millions of pounds available to splash out on players.
A “conservative” budget, coupled with Freedman’s novice status and Palace’s league position, could make attracting players a difficult task.
Freedman will also need to decide on a style of play which will primarily get enough points to finish 21st or better. While it is assumed that the Scot favours an attractive style of play, under predecessor George Burley, Palace were too easy to break down, with the leakiest defence in the division.
The team’s style of play has been an issue for the club’s fans since the tenure of Neil Warnock. But Warnock, remember, despite adopting a more direct method of play, got Palace into the promotion play-offs.
Following administration and the wholesale changes to playing staff, Burley reverted to a passing, possession game which despite flashes of potential, crumbled under pressure, leaving fans pining for stalwarts such as Clint Hill and Shaun Derry. It seems clear to anyone that witnessed Palace’s recent away trips to Nottingham Forest and Millwall that if Freedman can find “muck and bullets” players like this, his chances of keeping Palace up will improve.
Then there is the small matter of scoring goals. In previous campaigns, the lack of a goal scorer has been compensated by a water tight defence. James Vaughan, who spent three months on loan at Selhurst from Everton, has a £1 million price on his head, while League One’s Charlie Austin and Craig Mackail-Smith may also prove too pricy for Palace.
Many fans believe Adam Le Fondre could provide the answer, but whether he should be jumping two divisions is the sort of call which only managers far more experienced than Freedman regularly get correct.
Of course, Freedman does not only have to worry about bringing in players. We are led to believe that Wilf Zaha is being tracked by a number of top-flight clubs, as is right-back Nathanial Clyne. Inspirational midfielder Neil Danns, who advocated the appointment of Freedman as manager, is yet to sign a new contract. It seems that unless Freedman can convince him to sign in the next week or so, Palace will be forced to cash in now rather than lose him for nothing in the summer.
The appointment of Freedman fills fans with a sense of pride, excitement, and a degree of fear. After all, Freedman was not even the first choice for the job, but they were turned down by Bournmouth boss Eddie Howe. Steve Kember and Peter Taylor, Palace legends in their own right, know only too well how managing the team you love doesn’t always go to plan.
Palace fans will be hoping Freedman can replicate the managerial prowess of Steve Coppell.