After their loss to Watford in the FA Cup yesterday essentially ended Crystal Palace’s season prematurely, fans were understandably frustrated. What looked like the Eagles’ best chance of winning a trophy in years halted by another lacklustre performance.
Crystal Palace’s season has been frustrating – but fans shouldn’t be discouraged
Given their sixth season in the Premier League is looking to be an unimpressive one, some fans are growing disenfranchised with where they think the club is heading. But is it really all doom and gloom for South London’s number 1? Or is there actually room for encouragement at the club that we’re just not seeing right now?
Massive off the pitch progress
Despite some disappointing performances on the pitch as of late, it shouldn’t overshadow all the great work happening off of it. The most publicised aspect being the redevelopment of Selhurst Park’s main stand, which is due to start in summer 2020. Whilst this is later than the originally promised date of this coming summer, judging by chairman Steve Parish’s comments, it’s simply more of a case that the process is taking longer than anticipated as opposed to there being significant disruption. This is the sort of thing that comes with stadium redevelopment so I am confident we will see it happen.
But don’t think the development stops at the director’s box. Palace also secured a permanent home for their academy just before the turn of the year. The club’s youth team base in Beckenham is now theirs for the next 75 years.
I truly cannot emphasise how important this is for the club. Palace have a proud history of producing extremely talented young players. The most recent of which being Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who has been a total revelation since his debut against Tottenham last year.
The surrounding boroughs in South London are currently, statistically, the best areas for young British football talent. Jadon Sancho, Joe Gomez & Ruben Loftus-Cheek are just a few names that have emerged from south of the river in recent years. Given that Palace are the only Premier League team in South London, it’s only natural they’d want to reap the benefits too.
Having youth facilities we can develop as we please is obviously crucial to this model and something that Palace have desperately needed for years. And now we have it, it will let us take massive steps forward for the sustainability of the club.
Outside of football entirely, Palace have also cemented themselves as a crucial part of the local community. The club’s scheme to use Selhurst Park to help local homeless people drew admirers from all across British football. The club’s official charity, the Palace For Life foundation, have also done great work. Back in October people from all across the club marched 26.2 miles from Selhurst Park to Trafalgar Square. The group, which included chairman Parish and Palace legends such as Mark Bright and Andrew Johnson, raised a grand total of £100,000 for their work with hard-to-reach youngsters all across South London.
I’m a huge believer that a football club is so much more than just what happens on the pitch. It helps draw in fans across all generations and gives both the club and the whole sport a greater reputation across the area. Palace has always been a heavily community focused club and we should be proud of the work we’ve done this season.
Hodgson has provided stability
Stability. The dreaded word no football fan wants to hear if they can avoid it. To most fans, stability screams nothing more than “accepting mediocrity”.
However, historically Palace are a club that have found stability extremely hard to come by. After both Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce left the club the summer after their respective great escapes, many fans feared they would never get the quiet season they needed to push the club forward.
So, what happened? Palace currently sit in 14th place, five points clear of Cardiff in 18th. At this same point last season, it was the Eagles that occupied that spot with a measly 27 points. This is one of the most stable seasons we’ve had in a very long time. Apart from a brief spell between October and early December, which was admittedly pretty dismal, Hodgson’s side have never looked like they would lose their Premier League status.
This is by no means to say that the former England manager is immune to criticism. His reluctance to make a substitute until the 84th minute demonstrated yet again he is far more of a reactive manager as opposed to proactive. This mentality has cost Palace several points this season – most notably against Everton and Southampton. And his generally negative style of play at home have left Palace with the second-worst home form in the league.
What certainly cannot be denied is that Hodgson is one of the most pleasant and well-conducted managers in the league. He’s the sort of man that, when things are going well, you are genuinely delighted to have at your club. And in line with the ethos Palace want to install, it’s understandable why they wouldn’t be keen on getting rid of him sooner than they have to.
That said, there are rumours circulating that the club are looking to change manager in the summer. Former Huddersfield boss David Wagner is currently the most common name being circulated. I definitely wouldn’t be against it – he’s an undeniably talented young manager who I think would fit perfectly into the system we want to build. But that appointment would not guarantee any instant solutions, especially with the transition the club is undergoing.
The point is, Roy is clearly not a long term solution, but I think the club know that too. He makes agonising mistakes, but he gets us where we need to be – even if it’s not necessarily where we want to. It cannot be understated how crucial the entire Premier League package is for the development of our club. And while all this remains true, the club will not get rid of him until the right man to take us forward comes along. Whether that happens this summer or next, the fans need to have faith in the decision that is made.
A greater emphasis on youth
The appointment of Dougie Freedman as director of football in August 2017 signified a catalyst for change in Palace’s structure. Most notably, the clubs transfer policy has been significantly reformed since the ex-Palace striker’s arrival.
Recently, most notably under Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce, Palace have spent an inordinate amount of money on transfer fees. This left us with both an enormous wage bill and an ageing squad. For a club with attendances barely over 25,000 a week, this model was never going to be sustainable.
As well as the investment in their academy, Palace are also aiming their transfer policy towards talented youngsters. Over the past two years, signings have consisted mostly of players aged between 18-22 for low transfer fees. This includes Max Meyer, the highly rated German midfielder, from FC Schalke, and Lucas Perri, the 22-year-old Brazillian goalkeeper, from Sao Paolo. If Palace want progression, we need to establish a scouting network that can bring these players in for us reliably. As a result, this will be the sort of signing fans will be seeing much more regularly from here.
The other reason for this shift is to make it easier to replace key players if they depart. Palace’s star man Wilfried Zaha, as well as the previously mentioned Wan-Bissaka, have long been moved with links away from Selhurst Park. Palace have held onto them until now, and understandably so. But continuing to do so will prove trickier with time. It is important that we have a plan for when it does inevitably happen.
By bringing in young players we can develop to take their place, it will inevitably soften the blow. That way, we can cash in on our stars, wish them well for the future, and carry on as a club. In fact, if reports are to be believed, Palace are already looking at a collection of young wingers and full backs for the summer. Obviously, replacing our best players will not be easy, but it’s certainly reassuring to know the club are preparing for the possibility.
It all needs time
Steve Parish stated after Frank de Boer’s departure that he had learned from his prior mistakes. And given his actions as chairman since I have no reason not to believe him. However, turning around an entire football club from top to bottom is an enormous job. I completely understand Palace’s frustrations at having seemingly gone nowhere the past six years. But unfortunately we can’t change the past, and now that there is a clear plan in place for genuine progression. I hate having to keep saying to be patient – I want success just as much as anyone. But it will take far more than two years to start seeing the benefits.
We’re doing OK right now – not great, not amazing, but OK. And that’s honestly all we need for the time being. Too many Premier League teams – most notably Charlton and Portsmouth – have completely fallen apart because they tried to do too much too quickly. There’s no doubt this summer is a big one for the club to see how their policy unfolds. But there is certainly reason for encouragement. I completely understand how frustrating seasons like this one can be. But all I ask is we just give the club time and trust them to implement their vision properly.
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