Why Crystal Palace's problems can't be solved by a manager alone
Frank de Boer made Premier League history this season as he became the first manager ever to take permanent charge of a team only for them never to score.
The 47-year-old Dutchman departed Selhurst Park with a record that is only memorable because it was so far. Five matches were played under his charge and on five occasions his side were defeated.
Roy Hodgson was swiftly appointed as the former Inter head coach’s replacement, though, if he needed any indication of just how hard his task will be, it rapidly arrived as his side were thumped 5-0 by a rampant Manchester City on Saturday.
“We know there is a lot of work to do with this group and they know that too,”
he admitted after the defeat to Pep Guardiola’s league leaders.
“We've got to accept that we have been given a headache and we have to try to find the aspirin.”
Palace’s malady, however, is far more serious than a common migraine.
Their botched De Boer experiment was aborted rapidly, but not quickly enough to prevent the damage being long-lasting and even terminal. For a side that finished 14th in the Premier League standings last term, only seven points above the drop zone, there is little room for error if they wish to avoid a return to the Championship.
Yet, their board clearly made a catastrophic decision to appoint De Boer and perhaps an even more panicked one to sack him.
Chairman Steve Parish has had the audacity to suggest that he has done the club a favour.
"Obviously results weren't good, and I can understand people saying that four games wasn't enough,"
he told Holmesdale Radio.
"But Frank was here from July 1 and, in the end, I didn't think it was going to work. It could have gone on longer but, if that then produced the outcomes I thought it was going to, that kind of makes me negligent."
"You know what you open yourself up for when you make that change, but I can't let that make the decision."
"The decision has to be 'what is the bigger picture and is this going to improve' - and based on two-and-a-half months, not just four games, I didn't think it would work and I regret that."
"I regret the fact that it didn't work for Frank or the football club, but I felt I had to make that change."
Parish’s thinking appears to be muddled. He was part of the panel that appointed De Boer to overhaul the club’s playing style, carrying them away from a long-ball side to an outfit that passed their way to success.
Indeed, De Boer made it plain that was his aim when he explained that it is his “DNA to try and play tactical and technical football, to try to dominate”.
Given that was the manager’s remit, questions must be asked as to why he wasn’t given the correct tools to make it a success. His playing staff, and the defence in particular, clearly weren’t capable of producing such football, and the board were unwilling to give him sufficient backing in the transfer market to allow him to sign players who were.
De Boer should have shown more pragmatism, of course, than to try to implement a fresh style immediately.
Ironically, though, in the second half of the 1-0 defeat to Burnley they did adopt a more direct approach and looked better for it. After three-and-a-half matches, he seemed to be getting a belated handle on things.
In changing manager abruptly just after the close of the transfer window, Palace have left themselves a side without an identity. Of course, going back to their previous style will likely be a more rapid transition than to evolve into the passing team that was Parish’s summer dream, yet they have offered their relegation rivals a seven-match head start on them.
They can consider themselves fortunate that they are still only four points off the safety zone. It is a shambolic situation and one that the board should take much of the responsibility for.
Forget De Boer’s failure at Inter, Palace’s decision to appoint such a coach with a well-defined playing style so different from the one the side had under Sam Allardyce, was always liable to be one that caused short-term pain.
Pain that Parish did not seem to believe, which appears to be ignorant at best and downright negligent at worst. One has to wonder if the chairman did his research into the manager or even pondered the consequences of such a wholesale change.
Given this, it is Hodgson who will have to tidy up the mess. As he discovered against City, it will be an almighty job.
Next up for the Eagles is a trip to Manchester United. Upsetting Jose Mourinho’s men appears a distant possibility, but to score their first league goal since May 14th, would at least be a positive start.