Crystal Palace Exclusive: Ian Holloway on succeeding Dougie Freedman, winning promotion, calling it quits and nearly signing Nicklas Bendtner

Ian Holloway by Ian Holloway / 18 November 2019, 15:01

Seven years ago (2012) Ian Holloway replaced Dougie Freedman in the Crystal Palace dugout. Within seven months he had successfully orchestrated his second managerial promotion to the Premier League. A summer of frenzied transfer activity followed, but then a difficult start to the new top-flight season saw Holloway vacate his position.

The Sack Race caught up with the manager to talk all things Crystal Palace...

When you were appointed Crystal Palace manager the club was 4th in the Championship. It’s rare for a manager to take over at a club doing so well, so with that said, how did you set about making your mark?

It was great, it was an honour, but it was really weird. You’re not normally in those circumstances so it was very different. 

When I was given the Crystal Palace job by Steve Parish he asked me to change the way they play, but not too dramatically because they were good. He wanted to play a more possession-based game and get the club playing like my old Blackpool side.

The most difficult thing for me was that my predecessor, Dougie Freeman, took five members of staff with him to Bolton, but I had two weeks at Palace with two members of his staff who I knew were leaving. It was a pretty tricky scenario because they kept on doing things the way Dougie did, which was different to the way that I did things. 

For the first couple of weeks I tried to observe what they were doing and for the weeks that followed I tried to take over with my own staff.

Normally I would go in and do it my way straight away, but I immediately realised that my way was going to clash with their way so I didn’t on this occasion. I had to rewind and go back.

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I think it’s important to have someone who knows and understands the club and the players, otherwise you’re going to come in and have some knee jerk reactions - you may not be right about some of the people there.

Palace had more staff than I’ve ever had in my whole career, if I put all my staff together in every single other club I’ve been at. They had their academy set-up, sports scientists, physios, the lot, it was unbelievable.

The most important thing for me was getting the scouting network right so I used to take Gary Penrice out with me a lot of the time, and if I couldn’t physically take him with me I’d be picking his brains anyway.

The biggest problem wasn’t that Dougie and his staff had gone, it was that Wilfried Zaha was running out of contract with his agent and that caused Wilf a problem, me a massive problem, and the club a massive problem.

Wilf had other agents desperate to get him at the time, promising him things, doing this and doing that. His form wasn’t the same, so in the end I managed to fix that by getting him a move to Manchester United, and borrowing him back all at the same time. 

Come the end of the 2012/13 season you’d led Crystal Palace up to the Premier League, via the play-offs. How was that experience?

At the time of my appointment the most important thing was getting promoted. Regarding the Play-Off Final, I was used to that type of situation and helped the players stay calm, and I think I helped them win that Final.

It worked out a treat for Steve Parish, Crystal Palace and myself. It was an honour to pick up that group of players - I had a fantastic group of people in the dressing room, it was a privilege. 

When I took over it was my biggest challenge to keep things moving in the right direction. We lost our top-goalscorer - Glenn Murray - who got injured in the play-off semi-final. However, it was a magnificent effort by everybody at the football club.

The truth about it all was so funny because Steve Parish, who I worked very closely with in achieving our goal, kept mentioning Dougie Freeman all the time. In the end, I had to say ‘Steve, my name’s Ian not Dougie! You’ll have to ask him why he left you because this is ridiculous!’.

It was like the pair of them had divorced - I was the new relationship and he was speaking about an ex-girlfriend, it was terrible.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last as long as I wanted, but there you go, that’s life.

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After winning promotion you brought in 16 new faces in the summer. If you could go back, would you have placed more faith in the team that got you to the Premier League?

It was obvious that we were going to have to sign people, and Steve Parish wanted to sign people, so I had to find out who these players were, what they did, and how they did it - which was the toughest thing ever.

I had no chief scout so I was literally staying up all night scouting players.

I had five days off, and the rest of the time I was watching ‘Wescout’. I was phoning my old chief scout Gary Penrice like mad.

I then had a new inexperienced chief scout come in called Tim Coe - at the time he was training to be a solicitor - who was excellent but he didn’t have the knowledge of all these names that Steve Parish was getting hold off through agents.

But I believed that by the end of that summer transfer window that we had got the players that we actually needed.

In the summer I tried to build a squad of players who could keep the club in the Premier League, and in the end many of those additions played a vital role in the club’s survival. For example, Jason Puncheon came in and was excellent.

Marouane Chamakh came in, and we almost ended up getting Nicklas Bendtner, but that fell through at the last minute. Luckily we had Cameron Jerome lined-up because otherwise I don’t think we would have been strong enough.

I thought we made some really good signings, but it was Tony Pulis who benefited from that because he came in with his experience of staying up, and gave the team the confidence they needed. He won the Premier League Manager of the Season (2013/14) that year so well done to him.

In October 2013 you revealed, via a press conference with Steve Parish, that you had left your post at Crystal Palace. Was that one of the toughest points in your career?

That period was really tough. 

After all the summer activity and scouting, I needed a slight break but you can’t have a break towards the start of a season.

Steve Parish asked me whether I thought Palace would stay up and I said: ‘I don’t know, how do I know?’

In my interview when I got the job, he asked me whether I could take Palace up and I said: ‘I can’t promise that but I’m going to build towards doing it’.

I think that one statement cost me my job, but that’s life, I couldn’t guarantee that I could keep them up because I had never done it before!

What do you make of the job Roy Hodgson has done at Crystal Palace?

I think that Roy Hodgson and Ray Lewington have done a magnificent job. They’ve been quietly sensational. It’s gone under the radar.

Palace have a lot more of the ball now. I think Roy is excellent, and after watching his interview the other week when he said they weren’t going to really outscore anybody so we have to play a certain way. I thought that was fantastic, that’s experience for you.

They didn’t really add any strikers to the squad this summer and they lost Michy Batshuayi who helped keep them up last season. They’ve been brilliant for Wilfried Zaha, they’ve made him look a better player.

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