In May 2018 Crystal Palace pulled off the seemingly impossible yet again. They became the first top-flight side in over 100 years to lose their first seven matches without scoring a goal and still manage to avoid relegation. Understandably, manager Roy Hodgson was given enormous plaudits after managing to turn the club around since joining in September. At the end of the season, he then said he “hoped Palace would learn from the mistakes of the previous season and get their business done early.”
Crystal Palace Need Wholesale Changes – and They Won’t Happen in the Premier League
Those claims echoed Palace fans’ (myself included) biggest complaints over the running of their club in previous years. Whilst other clubs were adding fresh faces during the transfer window, we sat back, not usually signing anyone for at least a month. This led to both mass panic-buying in the last few weeks and a failure to sign at least one position the club needed. One of the best examples comes from the previous season. Whilst it was clear to any onlooker that Palace were in need of a striker, they left it to the last day of the summer window to agree a deal for Everton’s Oumar Niasse, only for it to fall apart in the last few minutes due to disagreements over agents fees. This policy manifested again in January, with Alexander Sorloth being the only forward signed, yet again on deadline day. Given the lack of reports of Palace’s interest in him in the days before, it’s highly unlikely he was a prominent name on their scouting list. Both of these incidents suggest a shocking lack of organisation on all fronts.
Given how close we came to relegation last year, you’d think there would be extra focus on fixing the same problems that had been plaguing us in previous years. Instead, we failed to sign a single player for over a month since the transfer window kicked off and spent a measly £10 million in the whole three months – all on the same player as well, Chekiou Kouyate. Given that teams like West Ham and Wolves spent upwards of £80 million in the same window, is it any wonder that Palace find themselves so far behind either of them in the league?
Problems Start at the Top
Blame must certainly be placed on Steve Parish and Dougie Freedman’s transfer strategies. One certainly has to question how they can continue the same approach after nearly five straight years of repeated failure. However, there are likely more underlying problems at the club as well. Not only are there a lack of signings but a significant number of the signings don’t turn out to be of much use. The previously mentioned Sorloth hasn’t scored a single league goal since joining the Eagles. Erdal Rakip, signed on loan from Malmo last January, didn’t even make one first team appearance.
This, in return, leads to a noticeable gap in quality between our starting eleven and the bench. Whilst it can be argued we have one of the best starting lineups outside the top six, our backup is anything but. If someone like Wilfried Zaha or Max Meyer were to get injured, we have no suitable replacement that can take their place. This is down to a lack of investment, plain and simple. Once the club decides the lineup is good enough to stay up, almost no thought is given to the depth we’ve all wanted for years.
The scouting network at Crystal Palace is simply not good enough. We don’t have enough targets come the transfer window and the ones we do bring in are more than often disappointing. In fact, Neil Warnock’s story of wanting to sign Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk whilst he was at Celtic, only to be told by a Palace scout he was “too slow for the Premier League”, provides even more evidence that no improvement has been made since.
The manager must not be left out either. While I adored Hodgson for the work he did in keeping us up last season and have nothing but respect for him as a man, his performances in the dugout this season have left a lot to be desired. Multiple times he has left substitutions too late, choosing only to change tactics with as little as ten minutes remaining. There’s also a noticeable drop in morale as soon as the team goes behind. This is to be expected of course, but you would expect the manager to be able to get his team up for it once this happens. Instead, we never show any signs of getting back into the game, and 99% of the time we end up losing.
Away From Selhurst Park
This is even before mentioning our training ground, that just this week was rated a zero for hygiene after being found with a mice infestation. Or our stadium that still doesn’t meet the Premier League’s basic disability requirements. Our infrastructure is not Premier League standard and, given all the TV money we’ve attained since promotion, that’s nothing short of appalling.
All of these factors are the result of an astonishing amount of short-sightedness present in the club’s management. Take a club like Bournemouth, who have established a distinct way of playing and kept faith with a manager who has given them success in the past. They’ve had some close shaves in the past but continued to back Eddie Howe to allow him to shape the team however he wants. And now, they sit quite comfortably in the top half of the Premier League. That’s with half the resources that we have.
With Palace, probably the two most synonymous names with Premier League stability – Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce – both left us during their respective summer windows, with the former even explicitly stating the club was not heading in the direction he wanted for progression. And since our promotion, we haven’t had a single season where we haven’t been fighting relegation for a significant part of it.
Steve Parish has escaped criticism from notable sections of the Palace fanbase for his work in getting them into the Premier League. However, while his past accolades are certainly admirable, his present day running of the club leaves a lot to be desired.
But this all leads to one question – where does the club go from here? If I’m being blunt, I believe relegation from the Premier League is inevitable. Even if we manage to gather enough points to survive again, we have dug ourselves such a gigantic hole that it seems impossible to fix with one summer. Look at Sunderland – a team that spent season after season scraping survival and are now languishing in League One. That could very well be us if we’re not careful – we’re already halfway there.
This leaves us with only one option – accept our fate and start planning for life in the Championship and beyond. While I’m the last person that even wants to think about relegation, we have to start shifting our approach to a more long-term one. In the past, we have looked no further than the end of the season. When the going gets tough, we sack our manager and bring someone in who we know can keep us up, come May. Well, in my opinion, it’s time to go beyond that. It’s time to ask ourselves – where is it we want to be in five years time and how are we going to go about getting there? And in order to do so, we need to cover every possible scenario.
Pros and Cons of Relegation
While Palace will almost certainly lose their biggest names after relegation, such as Wilfried Zaha and Max Meyer, there are some we will be able to keep. Add that to the tremendous potential in youngsters such as Nya Kirby and James Daly, as well as the new main stand just around the corner, and we could easily attract a proven manager at the level and sustain our place as a top half Championship team. More importantly, it would finally give us the stability we have all be craving for so long. This is by no means the preferred solution but, being blunt, it is probably the most realistic and one that we have to be prepared for. It is up to us to turn the worst possible outcome into a positive for this club. If we want any hope of any success in the near future, wholesale changes must be made from the top down, and that will only be possible when we’re not scrambling for our lives all season.
But whatever league we end up in, if Steve Parish refuses to change, it’s time to entrust the club to someone who will.
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