When Owen Coyle was relieved of his duties as Bolton Wanderers manager in October 2012, few would have bet on Dougie Freedman being the man to take over. At the time, Freedman's Crystal Palace side were sitting in fourth place after making an impressive start to the campaign. Meanwhile Bolton were languishing in 16th place and looking like battling against relegation instead of challenging for promotion as they were predicted to do. Despite this, terms were agreed and Dougie took over on October 25th.
Between then and the end of the season, Bolton's fortunes took a dramatic turn for the better as they made a late surge up the table. This took them to the brink of a playoff place, missing out on the last day on goal difference to Leicester City.
Freedman brought with him an experienced backroom team and a philosophy based around sports science and developing youth from within. The club are already starting to see the benefits from this with a number of youth teamers making the step up. Despite the final day disappointment, the future is looking bright for Freedman. The fans are already clamouring for the start of the new season.
On Monday, Crystal Palace booked their place in the Premier League for the 2013/14 season, beating Watford 1-0 in the playoff final. With this there have been a number of comments from Palace fans still questioning Freedman's decision to jump ship for Bolton, and to the neutrals they may be right. The bigger picture, however, tells a different story.
As we well know, Bolton were nowhere near challenging for promotion and few would have expected the Trotters to improve so dramatically, which is why many questioned his decision. What he saw was a club with a strong infrastructure, formed over 11 seasons in the Premier League, a state-of-the-art ground and an academy with elite status. Yes, he was inheriting a squad low on confidence, but that's what managers thrive off; a chance to show their skills and turn things around, and he has delivered (so far).
With another season of Championship football to come, there will inevitably be a few more sneering comments from Palace fans aimed in Dougie's direction over the course of the campaign. This shouldn't bother him though as it is another season for him to really put his stamp on the team and build something special. Every manager wants to challenge in the top division, but that opportunity can come too soon for some and many young managers pay the price for early failure and have to re-join the football league to start again.
We must remember that Dougie has only been in management for two years, and while he has shown great potential already, he still has much to learn. Unfortunately the Premier League doesn't allow much for learning periods, for managers or players, and by the time you adapt to it, you can be cast adrift. What Dougie mustn't now do is see last season as a failure, which I'm sure he won't.
He should see it as another opportunity to properly prepare himself and his team for a return to the Premier League. Hopefully if/when Bolton make it back to the top table with Freedman, we do so with a manager who is ready for the challenge and one who can continue to improve our club as well as himself as a manager.