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Identity Crisis at Bolton Wanderers?

Who are we? Really, who are we? Lee tries to figure it out.

Does Freedman have what it takes to stamp his identity on the club
Does Freedman have what it takes to stamp his identity on the club
Charlie Crowhurst

There is usually one determining factor that normally defines a manager and his reign at a club.

It could be his demeanour around the club or his dealings with the media. It can be the signings he makes and the type of player, nationality or size in some cases (see our very own Big Sam Allardyce, Tony Pulis at Crystal Palace, Rafa Benitez at Napoli or Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, for example).

But usually it is the identity they ingrain into their team, the way they play and impose themselves on the opposition. The tempo of their play, the tiki-taka possession based passing style or speedy counter attack.

Sir Alex Ferguson trademarked many things but the 4-4-2, up until his latter years, with speedy wingers and an always pleasing-on-the-eye attacking purpose, was the defining trait of his Manchester United teams.

Equally, Brendan Rodgers has speedily implemented a counter attacking, pressing and high tempo ideology on Liverpool's squad, signing quick-thinking, pacey and nimble individuals who are able to carry out his instructions.

Then there is our own beloved Dougie Freedman.

Start scratching your heads, because that is exactly what I am doing.

Now don't get me wrong here.  I realise Dougie Freedman has taken on a difficult job at Bolton Wanderers.

Some would say an almost impossible task, a hiding to nothing.

However, since the heady days of our speedy-up turn in form, subsequent play-off push and last day heartache in the Spring of 2013, he has been unable to stamp an obvious identity on a team that is now 75% his chosen men.

He trawls the same line in pre or post match interviews, time and time again stating:

"The fans can see what I am trying to do."

The problem for me is; no, no we can't.

The oft-referred financial restrictions placed upon his shoulders have unfortunately shorn Freedman of the wherewithal to bring in the type of men which may have helped him in this cause.

Lukas Jutkiewicz is the prime candidate who could have offered a personality and a leader to a team so desperately lacking in this category.

Even so, I can't help thinking his signings are a mish-mash of ideas, a hunch on individuals taken without a clear plan, neglecting to look at the bigger picture of creating an identity for this club, his team and his reign as Bolton Wanderers supremo.

Some would say that the majority of his signings have worked out well and I would tend to agree that their individual and collective work rate at least is an improvement. Certainly on some of the more ego-driven names who hung around the club like a bad smell after our Premier League demise.

I can't help think though, that the mixture of attacking signings like Neil Danns, Rob Hall and Liam Feeney are not complemented by the likes of the cumbersome Liam Trotter and the combative but wasteful Medo Kamara.

I realise the need for grafters to give balance and protection for our more expressive players but if Freedman intended to stamp a particular playing style and formation on his squad he has failed in this task through his inability to marry the strengths of certain individuals together to form a cohesive unit and a fluid, compatible structure to the side.

A handful of performances last season such as those against Blackburn Rovers at home and at Elland Road against Leeds United seemed to point him in the right direction, even if he rather stumbled across a winning formula.

Nevertheless, still it seems he cannot decide on a certain way of playing or a tactical plan to suit, playing three different formations in pre season and two in our two games thus far.

Now there is nothing wrong with experimentation, a plan B and tactical flexibility to suit the opposition .  However, ask any fan what our style is, who is our talisman and they will look blankly back at you.

Talisman? Hmmmm. Jay Spearing?

As much as I admire our captain's heart and undoubted ability at times, he is not the player we should be looking towards to galvanise a team with very little personality.

Depressingly he is the only real option.

I prefer a captain to have stature, something Jay cannot help quite clearly. However, when the going gets tough and his teammates are hiding, his arms instantly outstretch (some may say demanding options from those around him) and I see a player looking for someone to offload the ball to like a hot potato.

Games need to be taken by the scruff of the neck and neither he, nor anyone else, seems capable or even willing to give this a go.

Freedman is only two years into his project and it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge this, but I just can't help the nagging feeling that he doesn't know what he wants and what he is trying to do with his team.  Watch any Bolton game home or away and we are reactive, pro-activity takes a back seat.

How many times can you say we have set out with a purpose and a zest about us to put the opposition on the back foot and I would be surprised if any fan without rose tinted spectacles could name but a few.  Only when we go our inevitable one goal down does some sort of plan spring into action.

We need to see something from our manager which screams, 'I know what I'm doing and I will stick to my guns' or what hope do the players have in trying to form a unit who know each others games, each others strengths and can play in a way that can take advantage of this.

Dougie needs to find an identity for his team or his own as Bolton Wanderers manager will eventually be in serious jeopardy.