On a sunny summers afternoon in June, Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish struck an affirmative tone.
“We need an evolution over a period of time,” he relayed to an assembled gathering of journalists. “We’ve been in the bottom three two seasons in a row for home form, sooner or later that’s going to catch up with us. If you want to play on the break in the Championship it’s less expensive. I think we’ve got players who are technically better than that now but it’s also not a sustainable model.”
Parish was speaking at a press conference announcing the appointment of Frank De Boer as head coach and he gave the impression that the club wanted to gradually evolve from a glorified battle tortoise into a more polished, adaptable outfit.
Less than three months later and only four games into a three-year contract, De Boer was unceremoniously sacked. The Dutchman had lost all of his matches in charge, but it was still a decision that left many picking metaphorical jaws off the floor.
Four defeats without a single goal scored certainly makes for grim reading, but Palace could easily have snatched a point at Liverpool if it wasn’t for a galling miss from Christian Benteke and they somehow proceeded to squander chance after chance at the weekend against Burnley.
Objectively speaking, De Boer never appeared a good fit when analysing the components that make up Palace’s squad always more suited to swift counter attacking and direct play. As Parish alluded to, they’ve played a physical, reactive style since promotion to the top flight in 2013.
The managers the club have hired in that period back that up with Ian Holloway, Neil Warnock, Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce proud bastions of no nonsense, simplistic football. Allardyce was a guest on Monday Night Football and outlined his ‘keys’ for survival in the Premier League which included rudimentary ideas such as keeping clean-sheets, winning knockdowns, set pieces and not losing possession in your own half. Arguably the only manager who tried to meddle with that model was Alan Pardew, but similar to a three day drug binge, the comedown was steep after early highs.
The process of changing philosophy requires more than just the manager for it to succeed, but even at that, it was debatable whether De Boer was the correct appointment. He won titles at Ajax but was aided by a hierarchy designed so that the coach is only one cog in a machine rather than an all-powerful autocrat. There were signs towards the end of his tenure in Amsterdam that he was too wedded to the methodical, laboured possession approach which blighted Louis Van Gaal’s final season at Manchester United. He left Inter Milan after 85 days and probably didn’t envision ever besting that record.
That being said, the most puzzling aspect isn’t that De Boer was sacked but that he was hired in the first instance if Palace didn’t intend on at least giving change a go. It makes you wonder if Premier League clubs are so hypnotised by the riches on offer that it clouds any rationality or long-term thinking. Sunderland are perhaps the best example of this in recent years.
Perennially, they’d find themselves in relegation mire and seemingly doomed only to sack their manager and miraculously escape. There was no long-term strategy though apart from merely surviving and it eventually caught up with them. Consigned to the Championship, back-to-back relegations are a distinct possibility.
Palace seemed to have contracted the Sunderland bug, Parish having accounted for three of the 15 shortest managerial reigns in Premier League history. When in trouble last season, they pressed the panic button and brought in Sam Allardyce, who kept them afloat. Ideally he would’ve stayed on, but the 62 year-old favoured retirement so he could spend more time with his family. The solution to their latest misstep is to bring in 70 year-old Roy Hodgson, someone who hasn’t managed at club level in five years and is hardly primed for a lengthy stint.
Overall, De Boer’s tenure will go down as one of the most bizarre episodes in the Premier League’s recent history. It’s not so much of a surprise why he was removed but more why he was hired in the first place. Nothing in Crystal Palace’s recent history suggests that they are willing to take time and accept going one step back to take two forward. They’ll still probably be fine though. Anarchy and knee jerk reactions seem to be a nice fit for English football.