Crystal Palace needs to find their offence
After playing four matches in the Premier League, Crystal Palace is still goalless. The early season feeling this year should have been optimistic, as they gained safety easily last season and finished second in the 2016 FA Cup. Manager Frank de Boer had experience managing larger clubs, such as Ajax and Internazionale, and he looked like someone who could build on their results from last year.
So what happened that caused things to go so wrong in the first four matches? They didn’t lose talent at the window, and while they lost winger Yannick Bolasie last year, it was all the way back in August. If their bad run was simply a result of their squad, it would have become a problem much earlier than now.
This situation looks like a management problem, not a squad one. Being in the bottom half of the Premier League isn’t easy. While the top clubs have far more pressure on them, the ones in and around the relegation zone have less of a margin for error.
If a title contender has a bad season, it might mean missing out on Champions League money. If Crystal Palace has a bad season, they might be out of the league entirely. The bottom teams of the Premier League are never a stable environment, and Frank de Boer just wasn’t a good fit for the situation.
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It’s not that he’s a bad manager, but he’s better when his club is stable and when he has more resources to work with. Many managers can handle the pressure to win that exists at a club like Ajax, but the pressure that comes with being in the relegation zone is another thing entirely. It’s a situation that de Boer had never experienced.
When Inter sacked de Boer, he claimed that he needed more time. The thing is, he’s not great at managing chaotic clubs. He had success at Ajax because they had a stable organization and there was never a need to panic or improvise. Ajax gave him a good squad every year, and he managed them to success.
On the other hand, Inter needed someone who could turn around results quickly. In a way, Inter and Crystal Palace had similar needs. Both clubs are more focused on short-term survival than long-term planning. Inter wants to stop the bleeding from the past few years, and Palace just wants to stay in the Premier League.
Ajax won with de Boer because the club believes in playing the long game. He wasn’t a fit for Palace, because they don’t have the time for that. The results surely would have improved in the future, but by then, the club would already be in a relegation battle. Sometimes, it takes more than one year for a manager to make his mark. In that case, Palace would already be in the Championship before they improve.
So what does the future look like for Palace? It isn’t as bad as the first four matches make it look.
Roy Hodgson is managing for the first time since his England contract wasn’t extended last year, and his style is the opposite of de Boer’s. He’s managed sixteen clubs, usually staying at each one for a few years. Many of his stints only last for one year.
A club like Palace isn’t in position to implement a long-term philosophy. Hodgson, unlike de Boer, isn’t going to try to.
He may only stay at his boyhood club for a year or two, but his focus will be on the immediate results and not on a specific tactical system or team philosophy. After all, he’s managed too many clubs to allow personal preference to decide how he runs his team.
Yes, England performed terribly in EURO 2016 under Hodgson, but Crystal Palace and the English national team are two completely different beasts. England has some of the biggest expectations in the entire world, while Palace fans will be happy if they can repeat last year’s finish despite the early season struggle.
Some will criticize Palace for making a rash decision after four games, but by acting as soon as they did, they ensured that this season still isn’t lost. Going scoreless in the opening four games will quickly be forgotten if they finish four spots above the relegation zone again.
Of course, only time will tell whether the managerial change actually improves their results. But they had far more to gain than they did to lose with this move, and if there’s anyone that’s going to earn the respect of a disillusioned locker room at a club like Crystal Palace, it’s an experienced former England manager.
This definitely isn’t a bad appointment for an unstable club that’s very much in a relegation battle right now.