The lights were going out, quite literally, after a 4-0 midweek defeat in West London and the Scot had the dispirited look of a man who knew he was on his way.
Plenty of Bolton Wanderers supporters had been calling for change, indeed there were factions inside the club who were also glad to see the back of the former Crystal Palace striker, who lasted 99 games.
Five years on, however, it is easier to judge the rights and wrongs of Freedman’s tenure and whether his successor, Neil Lennon, was ever given the true picture of the club he inherited.
Freedman took over at Wanderers in October 2012. The club had serious intention to bounce back immediately into the Premier League but had lost faith with Owen Coyle and saw a bright young manager who had helped shape the early career of Wilfred Zaha, Yannick Bolasie and Co at Selhurst Park, thanks in part to a few well-placed voices who had Phil Gartside’s ear at the time.
His appointment put noses out of joint from the off. Jimmy Phillips, who had made a good fist of the caretaker’s job and felt it was his chance to shine, heard that Freedman had been given the nod on the night his team played at Wolves.
If that was a shabby way to treat a long-serving member of staff, it certainly wasn’t the last example in the coming months.
Almost immediately a wedge was driven between the first team – then based at Euxton – and the Lostock-based Academy. Freedman took what he felt worked at Palace and grafted it on to Wanderers but the cold and clinical way it was achieved did not sit well.
Results on the pitch improved quickly. Jay Spearing played his best football for Wanderers in Freedman’s first season, forging a great post-January partnership with Medo Kamara in front of the back four.
Wanderers came within one goal of reaching the play-offs as the in-form side in the division. The Whites strung together five wins on the spin at one stage but failed to beat Blackpool on the final day of the season and lost out to Leicester City, whose stoppage-time goal supplied by Anthony Knockaert spurred them on to bigger and better things. If football has a better Sliding Doors moment, I’d like to see it.
The team selection for Blackpool may forever haunt Freedman, in particular the decision to hand untested youngster Rob Hall in his full debut. At 2-0 down with 10 minutes left in the first half he sent on Marvin Sordell and, somehow, the Whites managed to draw level through Chris Eagles and Craig Davies.
The rest of the game was a forgettable affair. Wanderers’ dismay was summed up by a tearful Kevin Davies doing the lap of appreciation on his way out of the club after a decade of distinguished service.
Freedman’s first full season started dreadfully, with Bolton winning at the 11th attempt. Things improved eventually, particularly after the arrival of Lukas Jutkiewicz in January 2014, but the club’s inability to secure the striker’s signature ahead of Burnley the following summer proved pivotal.
It was a season of highs and lows – a demoralising 7-1 thrashing at Reading, a 5-1 humbling of Leeds United at Elland Road.
The Scot found himself getting increasingly frustrated by the club’s financial situation – finding himself priced out of the running for the permanent signing of defender Craig Dawson from West Brom, Liverpool winger Jordan Ibe and Jutkiewicz, all within the space of a few months.
Freedman’s logical, almost cold approach to team building required blocks. His final 12 months in the job were spent pursuing secondary targets and the standard of football on the pitch became stale.
Eddie Davies had already signalled his intention to sell, and the pressure was ramping up on chairman Phil Gartside.
Fans may have sided with the manager more had his public persona been more amenable. In the event, his persistent assertions that the supporters would eventually come around to his way of thinking was regarded as ‘preachy’ and when results went south, the atmosphere quickly turned toxic.
Gary Megson had the same issues when Bolton were a Premier League club. Bolton fans can be terrifically loyal but are never shy of voicing their feelings towards someone whose values conflict with their own.
Freedman talked passionately and thought deeply about football. His tactical analysis was as detailed as any Bolton manager I have ever dealt with but that dogmatic style just rubbed people up the wrong way on the terraces and within the club itself.
Man management seemed to be an issue. Sordell, who had been recruited by Owen Coyle but played the majority of his football at Bolton under Freedman, has been particularly vocal about the difficulties he faced.
But Freedman also saw there was a change on the horizon. He had voiced concerns at the lack of young players coming into the senior set-up, actively trying to recruit up-and-coming players from elsewhere like Conor Wilkinson and Hayden White, but he did hand debuts to the likes of Oscar Threlkeld, Andy Kellett, Tom Youngs, Chris Lester and Sanmi Odelusi.
He reduced the wage bill but time has shown neither he nor his successor Lennon were able to do it by nearly enough to avoid problems.
When his final campaign began with a 13-game winless run the knives had been out for some time.
Wanderers had begun to look like a shell of their former selves and, to an extent, so had the manager.
Five years on, Freedman is shaping the transfer policy at Premier League Crystal Palace after a spell in charge of Nottingham Forest.
In Keith Hill and David Flitcroft, Wanderers may finally have found someone who speaks the same language as the locals
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