Crystal Palace has always exerted a magnetic pull on Dougie Freedman. Two spells at Selhurst Park as a player earned him legendary status before he saved them from relegation as manager.
Returning in 2017 as sporting director, the Scot has helped cement Palace’s status as a reliable mid-table Premier League club.
This achievement hasn’t gone unnoticed. Freedman is among the early contenders to become Manchester United’s director of football once Sir Jim Ratcliffe completes his £1.3billion buyout of a 25 per cent stake at Old Trafford.
Freedman’s track record at Palace has impressed billionaire Ratcliffe and his head of sport, Sir Dave Brailsford, as they draw up plans to transform United’s flagging fortunes on the pitch.
It should be said the 49-year-old is not the only candidate, with Paul Mitchell, who has performed similar roles at Southampton, Tottenham, RB Leipzig and Monaco, also a name in the frame.
Dougie Freedman, currently the sporting director at Crystal Palace, has been linked with a director of football role at Manchester United as Sir Jim Ratcliffe comes in at Old Trafford
INEOS billionaire Ratcliffe is closing in on his £1.3billion buyout of a 25 per cent stake in United
There are plenty of pressing problems to sort at United both on the pitch and with recruitment
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Whoever takes the job faces an unenviable challenge. United have for many years now been guilty of wasting enormous sums on players who lack the dedication or the quality – or both – to help restore the glory days.
The struggles of Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Jadon Sancho at Old Trafford, to name just a few, have come to symbolise United’s post-Alex Ferguson decline and the general decay overseen by their American owners, the Glazer family.
Assuming Ratcliffe is handed control of the football side, he will surely try and introduce a bit more intelligence and diligence to United’s recruitment.
An accent on talented young players for the longer-term who can be developed and retain some resale value wouldn’t go amiss, rather than being ripped off for stars already on the way down.
That is precisely what is attracting United to Freedman – his ability to identify untapped talent has strengthened Palace, while his diligence also commends him.
Before Palace committed £18million to buy England defender Marc Guehi from Chelsea in 2021, Freedman had him watched between 15 and 20 times to build up a full picture of his attributes.
This detailed scouting is common practice at Palace, who can’t rely on the wide network of scouts at the disposal of United or other Premier League rivals.
Unwanted by Chelsea, Guehi has gone on to establish himself as one of the Premier League’s best defenders as a Palace regular, winning seven caps for England in the process.
Freedman (right) has worked closely with Palace chairman Steve Parish on new signings
Freedman could shoulder some of the responsibilities which currently fall on Erik ten Hag
Other gems signed include Eberechi Eze, also now an England international, who was signed for £17m from Championship club Queens Park Rangers in 2020.
Michael Olise was monitored at Reading for some time before Palace activated his £8.3m release clause in 2021, with the winger now a Premier League regular.
Defensive midfielder Cheick Doucoure, signed from French club Lens last year, can be chalked up as another recruitment success for Freedman and Palace.
Eberechi Eze (right) and Marc Guehi (left) are two successful Freedman recruits at Selhurst Park in recent years
When he was appointed, during Roy Hodgson’s first spell, Freedman was tasked with replenishing an ageing Palace squad.
While Hodgson wanted a core of experienced players, the club decided to adopt a policy of seeking out promising younger players.
Within a few months of Freedman’s arrival, Hodgson was singing his praises for shouldering some of the burden of responsibility at Selhurst Park.
‘He’s doing an outstanding job. He does a lot of work with Steve [Parish, the owner] in other areas of the club which at the moment don’t affect or interest me,’ Hodgson told the Croydon Advertiser in November 2017.
‘Both him and Steve Parish have made it perfectly clear that they want to free up as much work as possible around the club – in the commercial department etc – so I feel 100 per cent free to concentrate all my efforts on the football field and on the team.
‘Of course, that includes recruitment and that’s where Doug and I are working most closely at the moment.’
That would be an attractive proposition to Ten Hag, who likes nothing more than donning a tracksuit and getting into the nuts and bolts of tactics and coaching without external distractions.
Of course the Dutchman would retain a say in new signings but Freedman would be able to take care of things not really under the manager’s remit.
There has been debate over whether United should appoint a director of football for many years now and clearly Ratcliffe feels the time has come.
However, there is clearly a marked difference between operating on a day-to-day basis for Crystal Palace and a football behemoth such as United and Freedman’s track record hasn’t impressed everybody.
United legend Rio Ferdinand doesn’t sound too excited at the prospect of him coming in.
United legend Rio Ferdinand admitted to feeling underwhelmed by Freedman’s track record
‘His name has come out of left field. No disrespect, but I don’t remember anyone saying ‘wow, look at what Palace are doing’,’ said Ferdinand on his Vibe with Five YouTube channel.
‘Paul Mitchell, I get it, he has a history of doing good things and the same with Michael Edwards, Julian Ward at Liverpool.
‘They have a body of successful work that is recognised, so has Dan Ashworth with England and then Brighton and now at Newcastle. You can understand that but nobody says that about Palace.
‘(Michael) Olise, (Eberechi) Eze and (Marc) Guehi are three players you look at that have been good signings but for everyone one of those, there are others that haven’t worked.
‘They don’t have a reputation that makes you understand why United would go for him. Dan Ashworth has been in these roles before but John Murtough has worked in positions that aren’t based around football. He was helping out behind-the-scenes but not in football things.’
But the decision over a director of football will fall to Ratcliffe as he gets to work.