Over the course of the last three months, Dougie Freedman has shown (on multiple occasions) that he was the correct choice for the managerial post at Bolton Wanderers. The manager and his team have taken the Trotters from a close call with the drop zone to a potential top-five finish.
Freedman has had 32 league matches at the helm of Bolton Wanderers thus far. In that stretch, his team have lost eight games and won 14 times, drawing the remaining ten and picking up 52 points in the process. He led Bolton to two excellent unbeaten streaks and a very well-timed climb up the Championship table to fight for a play-off spot, a feat many considered impossible in mid-February.
When Dougie took over the team at the start of November, Bolton sat 18th in the Championship table after picking up only 15 points of 39 available. Owen Coyle's Bolton managed only 11 points from ten matches and Jimmy Phillips took four points from three matches. On top of that, the Trotters' pre-season preparations were seemingly nonexistent and the team was, to be frank, out of shape. Simply put, they could not compete with the rigors and pace of the Championship, consistently having to play five matches every 14 days. Jimmy Phillips and Sammy Lee instituted stricter training regiments upon Coyle's departure and Dougie Freedman ramped those sessions up even further.
In mid-March, Sam Ricketts echoed those sentiments in a Bolton News interview:
"There's different types of training, physically we train hard at times for fitness, but also tactically, and you can see we're much more aware now as a side.
"The way we defend, the way we attack, we have game plans for each individual game. That's what the manager brought into the club."
In other words, it was almost as if the players had spent the whole summer on the beach without touching a football and then had matches scheduled. Dougie Freedman was basically forced to take them from an out of shape squad into the division's form team. Over the course of three months, the Trotters had worked their fitness up to start-of-the-season levels and were able to compete with the best teams in the division. Dougie demonstrated his ability to drive the team and get results.
Dougie Freedman demonstrated that he can take this team to the Premier League. The question is, when Bolton Wanderers get there, is Dougie Freedman the man to keep them up and to push on for something more?
The manager has only had one short full transfer window with Bolton and one Football League loan window without a whole lot of money to spend. Freedman has brought two players in on permanent deals for minimal fees and those two, thus far, have come good. Craig Davies was purchased for a reported fee of £200,000 while Medo Kamara was brought in for a rumored £700,000. Both have arguably proven their worth already.
Craig Davies was never going to be a world-beater and his cost was certainly a reflection of that. Goals are relatively few and far between (three in 17 appearances) but a large part of that is because the minutes have been difficult to come by. Of those 17 appearances, Davies has only started four matches and has scored in none of them. Craig Davies will not be the team's starting striker for years to come. He is there to come into the match late, hassle the defenders, and fire every possible chance at goal. He did just this in the Leicester City loss but was unlucky as his thumping effort banged off the crossbar and a late header forced an incredible save out of Kasper Schmeichel.
Then, there's Medo. The combative midfielder signed from Serbian side Partizan at the end of the January window for the aforementioned price (again, rumored) of £700,000. He has appeared 12 times for Bolton Wanderers and started on nine occasions. In those appearances, Kamara has either played alongside Jay Spearing or slotted straight in for the on-loan Liverpool man and in those appearances, Kamara has consistently shown his class.
Think about it. In 2008, Bolton Wanderers purchased a then 21-year-old Fabrice Muamba from Birmingham City for £5 million (seven times Medo's apparent cost). Over the course of four seasons, Fab would make 130 appearances for the Trotters but would eventually struggle to find time in Owen Coyle's team. Muamba was, for all intents and purposes, a good player for Bolton Wanderers, but he wasn't a relative cut above like Medo is. Where Kamara is good on the ball, good with his feet, and has the tenacity to win the ball, Muamba was not especially graceful and, at times, awkward on the ball. Fabrice was arguably the better in an athletic sense but the gulf there is not at all major. Muamba's number of appearances provided a large sample size on which it is fair to judge his on-field contributions. Medo's appearances total a fraction of Fabrice's but with the quick pace and rough-&-tumble style of the Championship, his quality was quickly on show.
Where Bolton Wanderers have faltered under Dougie Freedman is in the loan market. To date, six players have been brought in on loan deals. Of those players, only one has had any real, positive effect on the club. That man, Craig Dawson, was also the only one brought in to fill a glaring hole in the Bolton side. The five other players (Jacob Butterfield, Danny Butterfield, Robert Hall, Jan Gregus, and Steve De Ridder) were all brought in as cover for other positions. For example, De Ridder was brought in during Chris Eagles' slump while Jacob Butterfield covered during a midfield injury crisis. Robert Hall and Danny Butterfield were brought in on similar reasons. As a result, those players were never going to be ones that were meant to make a huge impact for the men in white. Craig Dawson, the one signing meant to do that, did.
It is no coincidence that Dawson's continued inclusion in the starting lineup occurred at the exact same moment as the eight-match unbeaten streak (with six wins and three clean sheets) that thrust the Trotters up the table. Dawson's 16 appearances saw Bolton Wanderers lose only three matches and establish a dominant home record. Bolton have won eight on the bounce at the Reebok and will push to end the season with nine in a row. Dawson anchored the defense by providing a level head, smart play, and a threat in the air to keep the opposition out of the back of Bolton's net.
What about going forward? We know that Dougie Freedman is not afraid to make the tough decisions in terms of Bolton's starting lineup and matchday squads. He is not influenced by the oft-fickle fans and will pick players based on what they show in training and in match situations. When the club are forced to make difficult squad decisions this summer, you can bet that sentiment will not get in the way of Dougie doing what's best for the club, tough as that may be.
Tactically intelligent, not averse to admitting mistakes, willing to scout outside of the obvious channels, and knows how to work on a tight budget. That is Dougie Freedman and young as he may be, the manager has established himself to be the best option for Bolton Wanderers moving forward.