Luke Freeman will buck a trend if he proves to be a major success at QPR following his move from Bristol City. Ian Holloway believes he will. West London Sport’s Yann Tear – a City fan – assesses Rangers’ recent signing.
Ian Holloway is banking on Luke Freeman bucking a trend after becoming the latest Bristol City player to trade the West Country for west London.
Few of those who have travelled in the same direction down the years have noticeably improved, but the Rangers boss is convinced that this time, it will be different.
There seems to have been something of a conveyor belt of City players pitching up at Loftus Road, but given the sometimes underwhelming nature of previous movers from Ashton Gate, Rangers fans may well be sceptical.
It was not so long ago that Jay Emmanuel-Thomas arrived on the back of a hugely impressive contribution to City’s record-breaking League One title charge of two seasons ago.
Yet there were too few signs of his undoubted talents, and the former Arsenal man soon sank without trace.
It is hard to make a case for many of those swapping red for blue and white hoops improving after their switch to the capital, even if several made decent contributions.
Bradley Orr impressed far more than Tommy Doherty, but neither were as important for Rangers as they had been for City.
Holloway has a hunch that, this time, he will strike gold and that Londoner Freeman – also a former Arsenal youth team player – will feel very much at home and able to play the best football for the R’s.
The worry is, Bristol fans will tell you, that he may already have played his very best football, even though he is still only 24, and that there is no consistent evidence that a stunning League One player has it in him to make as big an impact in the Championship.
Freeman was adored in the promotion-winning season under Steve Cotterill.
Club captain Aden Flint was rightly named player of the season but the player who really made City tick, week in, week out, was the tireless and skilful Freeman.
It was a source of great annoyance to City fans that Wigan earned fame for the famous ‘Will Grigg’s on fire’ chant thanks to a YouTube post going viral. Robins supporters were singing: ‘Your defence is terrified, Freeman’s on fire,’ long before that ditty was stolen.
But the love affair has fizzled out now, with short memories contributing to a surprising wave of indifference from a good many City fans about his departure.
Freeman was simply dazzling in 2014-15, over and over again, when he was given a playmaker role and offered the sort of free reign with which current boss Lee Johnson did not trust him.
But his form in the past two seasons has been disappointing. We had seen him capable of shaping matches single-handedly. His influence diminished.
That could be because the Championship affords you less time, and defences are so much better. It could also be because Johnson only wanted to use him as a winger and that is not his best position.
Freeman does not have the pace to get around defences. His game is all about skill on the ball and ability to find space with clever twists and turns, astute passes and prodigious work-rate.
Nothing renders a player more disillusioned than the frustration of being played out of position, or in a role where he feels less able to make an impact.
There were no reports of any training ground bust-ups or great financial brinkmanship behind Freeman’s urge to get away. It seems to have been as much about the need to revive a stalled career.
Maybe Holloway will be the man to bring out that special talent again.
At his best, Freeman is a great mix of flair and hard work – the latter quality, in particular, being the sort of asset that the Rangers boss values above all else.
The modest fee of £300,000 Rangers are paying for a player running down his contract makes it a cost-effective gamble.
If he recaptures the heights of two seasons ago, it will be a great signing.
City fans, as well as their Rangers counterparts, will watch this space with interest.