Neil Danns strikes a chord with Bolton Wanderers fans
MEET Neil Danns – the all-singing, all-dancing midfielder who will be pulling the strings for Wanderers next season.
Having hit all the right notes since packing his guitar and boots and heading on loan to the Reebok last year, it came as little surprise Dougie Freedman made him the first confirmed signing of the summer.
Danns has become a standard bearer in the manager’s system – but is also the kind of whole-hearted, energetic type who was always going to forge an instant rapport with the Wanderers faithful.
The travelling troubadour had been frozen out at Leicester City, playing just two cup games in 12 months for the future champions under Nigel Pearson and spending most of his time on loan at Huddersfield Town.
In what seems to have been a recurring theme, he was largely unheralded when he slipped almost unnoticed into the team for a gritty goalless draw on the seafront at Blackpool that seemed to turn the tide in the Whites’ early campaign.
It was at Bloomfield Road we got a first proper look at Kevin McNaughton and Liam Feeney – two other loan arrivals who would help clear the doom and gloom of those first few months.
Danns gave Wanderers their first league win with a header against his former club Birmingham a week later – a result that took them out of the bottom three for the first time in seven games.
After the whistle, Danns issued a mission statement to The Bolton News that summed up why he has been quickly adopted as a fans’ favourite.
“I can’t affect whether the gaffer signs me other than doing the best I possibly can on the pitch,” he said.
“If that is good enough to influence their decision then great but the one thing you will always get is 100 per cent from me.
“Whether that’s enough – it never is for everyone every time – but I’m certainly going to try my hardest so that people warm to me and that can lead to big moves like Bolton Wanderers.”
By the time his long-range effort settled three points at Barnsley on Boxing Day, the Whites fans were screaming for Freedman to “sign him up”.
He missed two games, including a 5-3 humbling at the King Power Stadium, before coming back for an FA Cup win against Blackpool.
The next two months would show just how important he had become to Freedman.
Danns’ gain has been Chris Eagles’ loss. The former Manchester United man had filled one of the wider roles behind the striker for much of Freedman’s first year at Bolton but found himself increasingly marginalised over January and February.
While Danns lacked the X-factor Eagles brought to the Wanderers team at times, his work-rate seemed to make him a much better fit in the Freedman set-up.
Going off the manager’s words in the last few weeks, the battle between the two players may also have boiled down to a question of attitude.
And so, the more dynamic Danns has gone on to flourish in the final few months, while Eagles dropped out of favour as his contract winds down.
Freedman has made great play of reducing the average age of the squad and putting the emphasis on younger, hungrier players – but in the 31-year-old Danns, the manager is putting in place someone to set the bar.
With that in mind, Freedman may have already made the most important signing of the summer before it has even begun.