As E I Addio, our man in the Holmesdale End, might say, the next 24 hours are crunch time for Crystal Palace.
With the Eagles flying high in fourth place of the Championship table, manager Dougie Freedman is due to hold talks tomorrow with Phil Gartside, the chairman of Bolton Wanderers, who were relegated from the Premier League last season and who sacked their manager, Owen Coyle, earlier this month.
According to national newspaper reports, on the table is a three-year contract potentially worth £1.5 million for Freedman. For a young manager (Freedman is 38), in his first managerial job (he took charge at Palace in January 2011), who has been working with a tiny transfer budget, and with his own contract at Selhurst due to expire next summer, this may all seem like too good a chance to miss.
Just the fact that Bolton has shown interest in him will do Freedman no harm whatsoever in any negotiations with the Palace co-chairman Steve Parish should he decide to stay in south London. But after the club yesterday performed a U-turn to allow the former Scotland striker to have talks with Bolton, after agreeing a compensation figure for their manager, that must be looking increasingly unlikely.
There have already been reports that, under the circumstances, Freedman will not take charge of the side for tonight’s game against Barnsley. Might it be that Freedman has already managed Palace for the final time?
Having been an assistant manager at Selhurst when George Burley left in January 2011, Freedman is only too aware of the transient nature of football “success”. Despite enjoying cult status after two spells with the club as a player and a difficult first season in which he saved the club from the threat of relegation less than a year after the latest spell in administration, Freedman also knows that elements of the Palace crowd that were calling for his sacking just weeks ago after a less than encouraging start to the league season.
A seven-figure deal with Bolton would secure Freedman and his family’s future. Certainly, Bolton has made no secret that Freedman is the man that they want. At Bolton’s press briefing for today’s trip to Wolves, the caretaker manager Jimmy Phillips revealed that his chairman, Gartside, has informed him of the club’s intentions to secure Freedman as Coyle’s successor.
The extraordinary twist in the affair is the name of Parish’s preferred successor to Freedman: Steve Coppell.
If Coppell returned to Selhurst, it would be his fifth, or is it sixth?, spell in charge of the club. Currently director of football down the A23 at Crawley Town, Coppell has been tipped by Neil Ashton, the Palace-supporting chief football writer at the Daily Mail, for a senior post at Selhurst Park – possibly overseeing a new, younger coach-manager.
Mark Bright, the BBC football pundit who was a player at the club during Coppell’s glorious first spell as manager in the early 1990s, is another name mentioned as part of this back-to-the-future strategy.
Unsurprisingly, the Palace forums have been full of little else.
“Would Freedman’s legendary status at this club be tarnished if he walked out on us now?” asked one fan.
“Two points off the top of the table, with a team he’s wanted and built up, to leave now is surprising,” said another.
The air of resignation among supporters is palpable. “This is all pretty depressing,” said another. “I remember when Ian Wright went to Arsenal, I never thought he would leave Palace and I feel like this with Dougie.”
Whichever way the situation develops, it seems likely to be closer to resolution before Saturday’s visit to Leicester.
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- Crystal Palace u-turn means Dougie Freedman can talk to Bolton (standard.co.uk)