After just four games of the Premier League season, Crystal Palace’s Frank de Boer has become the first managerial casualty. A record of played four, lost four, scored none, does not make comfortable reading for the Dutchman, but it is nonetheless staggering how quickly the Palace board have opted to pull the trigger.
Roy Hodgson has taken over: aside from shared managerial stints at Inter Milan, the two coaches could hardly be more different. That he is their go-to replacement suggests Palace were never all that invested in rebranding their style of play – de Boer may well feel in hindsight that he was doomed from the start – but the appointment of the one-time England boss could nonetheless prove successful for the London outfit.
Many failed relationships have cited ‘compatibility issues’ as the reason for the breakdown, and in the case of Palace and de Boer this rings true. The Dutch tactician built his considerable success at Ajax around possession – they dominated by stroking the ball around with precision and purpose, transitioning seamlessly from one phase of play to another. How, then, must he have felt upon first walking into the dressing room and seeing the likes of McArthur, Tomkins and Benteke staring back at him?
All are good players in their own right,but to ask them to make up the spine of a de Boer team is absurd. Still, the manager was brought in before pre-season had begun, so there was clearly time to mould the squad a little more into his image and likeness. However, it appears that the powers that be lacked the inclination, or perhaps the resources, to do so: Mamadou Sakho and Jairo Riedewald were the only permanent additions to the squad. Both of these are good defensive additions, particularly Sakho, and both are far more ball-playing than any of the centre-backs already at the club.
Nevertheless, they are not transformative. Riedewald was not a definite starter in de Boer’s brief reign, and Sakho may not even have been the manager’s choice. The former Liverpool man had enjoyed a successful loan spell at the club in the latter half of last season, and following this the club board were set on getting him. In a Trump-esque tweet storm, club chairman Steve Parish admitted that acquiring Sakho blew most of the budget – if this is indeed the case, de Boer was left stranded with a squad completely incapable of executing his philosophy. This was damaging to both club and manager: Parish will need a lot more than 140 characters to explain himself.
Given all of this, the sacking actually appears to be a sensible decision. Granted, it is the first good call in a string of terrible ones made by the Palace hierarchy, but it was probably wise to step in now and attempt damage limitation rather than persevere with a manager they never equipped with the tools to succeed.
Hodgson as the replacement places a considerable ceiling on the ambitions of the team, having proved at Liverpool and then at England that he is utterly useless when entrusted with any squad even vaguely capable of challenging for trophies, but he is more likely to succeed with the current squad than de Boer was. Prior to his catastrophic spell on Merseyside he had impressed with Fulham, and his poor showing with England was preceded by a solid stint with West Brom – it must be conceded that he has some expertise in taking relegation-threatened squads to mid-table safety.
This will hardly enamour Palace fans, but priorities must surely have shifted to staying up after the sacking of de Boer brought the sorry attempt at a rebrand to an abrupt end. Hodgson is not one for the future at the ripe old age of seventy, but he has as good a chance as any of steadying the ship. if he succeeds, then perhaps Palace can try properly investing in a progressive vision in a year or two. For the time-being, Benteke represents an ideal focal point for a coach who is essentially a relic of a bygone era. Combined with traditional wingers in the shape of Zaha and Townsend, the materials are all there for Hodgson to create a goal-scoring outfit that can stay afloat in the top flight.
All that said, Hodgson essentially represents admitting defeat for Palace. The best he can achieve with the squad is good damage limitation, as opposed to positive steps for the future – with de Boer the club had a chance to put building blocks in place going forward, but the chance was comprehensively blown. The board was right to let de Boer go, but for all the wrong reasons. Palace can now only hope that Hodgson does well as a stopgap, and that another promising coach is waiting to join them on the other side. If the board are fortunate enough to see this come to pass, then they must fully invest in the new man – a lesson learned is perhaps the only potential positive to come out of this sorry saga.