New Bolton Wanderers recruits help heal old wounds
IT is not by accident that there has been a familiar look about the players Dougie Freedman has ticked off his shopping list in the last couple of weeks.
Neil Danns, Liam Trotter, Liam Feeney – and to an extent his former team-mate Dorian Dervite – are well-acquainted with the Wanderers boss and the way he wants football to be played.
Freedman takes great pride in his methodical, planned approach to recruitment, quipping a few weeks before the end of the season that he has already began planning signings for the following January.
But regardless of how much homework the Scot does this summer, he knows from experience that unforeseen problems can easily de-rail the most meticulous plans.
Freedman’s admission of civil war in the Wanderers dressing room at the start of the week set tongues wagging among fans.
The manager aimed his comments at “certain individuals” but wisely, perhaps, did not name names.
Hinting at factions that developed in the dressing room in the first couple of months of last season, Freedman admits the negativity did affect players – many of whom are still in his camp.
Any casual observer of the Whites this season could see that players such as Adam Bogdan, Jay Spearing, Chung-Yong Lee – even an old head like Zat Knight, looked much stronger in the second half of the campaign than they were in a difficult first few months. Freedman stamped out the problems and did a decent job of keeping a lid on them until such time as it did not matter to results.
And his actions in the last couple of weeks since the campaign finished suggest that he is already learning from the lessons taught.
The Scot has reached immediately for players he trusts. Danns – a reliable lieutenant on the pitch for most of last season whilst on loan at Wanderers is seen as the standard bearer for the younger professionals around the squad.
For all Trotter’s trials and tribulations in his first few months at the Reebok, the manager placed complete faith in the Millwall man at the end of the campaign and started to see some reward as his fitness and confidence levels improved.
While some fans will be disappointed a fleeting interest in Birmingham City’s Chris Burke was not followed up, the return of Feeney offers genuine pace down the right and a more direct option to the more refined skill-set of Chung-Yong.
Dervite is a new face to most at Bolton, but spent time with the manager during his own playing career and embodies the play-from-the-back style that he started to introduce towards the end of last term.
The Frenchman’s arrival does prompt questions about just how Freedman will keep four centre-halves happy, now that David Wheater, Matt Mills and Tim Ream have all sampled regular football and have more competition on board.
The Whites boss admitted one of his chief mistakes last season was not introducing more fresh blood when he had the chance, something which came back to haunt him when he was forced to continue playing those “certain individuals” alluded to earlier in the week.
Trusting the core of players who had taken him to the fringe of the play-offs the season before became a real problem for the manager, manifesting itself in that memorable blast after the 7-1 defeat at Reading.
Freedman is re-shaping the squad in his own image and thus can be more fairly judged when the season kicks-off again in August.
With more reliable types on board, he must be confident of avoiding the same pitfalls that befell him just over a year ago.