Lawrence of Suburbia brings calm continuity to Palace

Before he plunges in to the summer transfer market, the one over-riding thing that Dougie Freedman has already bought by securing Palace’s place in the Championship is time.

Dream team: Palace manager Dougie Freedman relies on sage advice from Lennie Lawrence

This summer represents the first transfer period for two, perhaps even three, years when the club has a manager settled in place and with some, however modest, transfer funds at his disposal.

The positive benefits of continuity, planning and organisation for a Championship club are immense, and Freedman will enjoy the advantage of a pre-season period which, because of the perilous state of the club 12 months ago, was denied even to his predecessor, George Burley.

Club owner Steve Parish admitted that in passing over Freedman and appointing the more experienced Burley, a mistake was made. And what Freedman may lack in experience is more than compensated for by the calm, guiding presence alongside him of Lennie Lawrence.

“I’m really pleased with Dougie and pleased with the people he’s brought in to help him,” Parish said on Friday. “Lennie’s a great addition, he’s got all that experience. They all know each other and trust each other – I think that’s important.

Bad decision: appointing George Burley as manager was a mistake, Parish has admtted

“That was one of the mistakes we made early doors. Not just with the appointment of the previous manager but with the fact we kind of created the backroom team for him. I didn’t think that really worked. The chemistry was never really as good as it could be. That’s really encouraging now, everybody at the training ground is pulling in the same direction.”

Whether that is also a comment on the departure of reserve team manager Dean Austin, we’ll leave you to decide.

The coming days and weeks, when Freedman’s mobile phone will at times be glowing hot with calls from players’ agents keen to espouse the qualities of various “Carlos Kickaballs” (copyright Alan Sugar 1999)  will be when Lawrence can really prove his worth.

Lawrence’s decade in charge at Charlton means he is all too familiar with managing the resources of a cash-strapped club at Selhurst Park. That was a task in which Lawrence regularly over-achieved, not least in ending Charlton’s 29-year exile from the top tier. In the years since, wherever he has worked – Middlesbrough, Bradford, Cardiff – the 63-year-old has continued to go quietly and thoughtfully about the football business, Warnock-like picking up bargain signings and developing promotion-challenging teams.

Lawrence’s principal task must be to advise Freedman in his team-building. No more headline-grabbing Edgar Davids, no goal-shy journeymen like Pablo Counago.

Was it Lawrence’s influence that saw the contract offer to Claude Davis withdrawn? Money is so tight, the wages paid for the 32-year-old centre back could be better used, especially if deployed to keep Anthony Gardner at the club.

Freedman was very open in the week that the former Tottenham defender’s wage demands are a sticking point; but Gardner is a Londoner, and realistically he is unlikely to have a better opportunity than with Palace, where he has fitted in so well since signing on loan from Hull. Released by Hull last week, Gardner is now a free agent. Are there other clubs banging on his door offering “Premier league wages”?

Freedman made no apologies this week for shopping in football’s bargain basement, with no signings likely with a price tag of £1 million or more. “This is the right way forward considering the mess the club has been in,” he said.

Undoubtedly, youth development is going to be a massive factor for Palace, not only to improve the playing squad, but also to create regular and significant income from transfers: anyone who has caught a glimpse of Victor Moses‘ recent form for Premiership Wigan might question whether Palace realised the right value for a player they had nurtured from a schoolboy. If a talent such as Nathaniel Clyne leaves Selhurst Park, the price has got to be right.

Freedman is also working hard at tempering expectations for next season, which already has the exciting prospects of visits to Brighton’s new stadium and to West Ham’s old one. “I’m not going to start talking rot in the press about how we’re going to win the title next year,” Freedman wrote in his weekly column. “After the last two years we’ve had, I don’t think that’s realistic.”

Continuity is key. “We have to stabilise the club and make slow and steady progress,” Freedman said. “The turnover of both players and managers has been too high in recent times, that’s not healthy for any club.”

Freedman: consolidation

With an eye on mid-table that could perhaps see Palace chasing for a place in the play-offs as a reasonable target, Freedman said, “First and foremost we must consolidate and make sure we are stronger than we were this season.”

And there’s no summer holiday for Freedman and Lawrence, at least not for a week or so.

This Friday, the management and owners will be on call at the end-of-season Fans’ Forum at Selhurst Park, and the following morning, it’ll be an early morning flight to Glasgow for Freedman for a scouting mission at the Scottish Cup final, when Motherwell striker Jamie Murphy will be the focus of attention.

Is Freedman set to sign the Scot? “We’re not close to anything yet.” Slow but steady progress.

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