Speaking on BT Sport’s Score show Savage condemned the struggling side. “They could go down as the worst ever Premier League side if they carry on.”(1) Crystal Palace have had the worst start in premier league history and this farce looks only set to continue.
Let’s examine the factors that have contributed to Palace’s historic losses’ this season. Crystal Palace used to be a team capable, but not consistent, in producing creative, counter-attacking football. The pinnacle of this style was as recent as the 2015/16 season where Palace reached the FA Cup final. This short-lived success can be attributed to the squad’s then depth of creative attacking midfielders and forwards. So, what has changed since the summer of 2016? Well, Palace have sold Yannick Bolaise and Dwight Gayle, and have started this season without Wilfred Zaha and Connor Wickham due to injuries. But the loss of key players in that period is emblematic of a bigger, ideological shift in the style of football played at Crystal Palace.
Alan Pardew was dismissed in the December following the FA Cup final with a new directive issued by the chairman. Owner Steve Parish claimed the club was to stop pursuing an “expansive style of football” and instead start to “wind the dial back the other way”. (2) The radical change of tactic was epitomised by the arrival of relegation specialist Sam Allardyce. The return to a more traditional, ‘contesting the high ball’, style of play was heralded by the club’s record signing, Christian Benteke. However, the strongman was unable to make an impact upfront and as of this moment is currently among the list of injured.
After an uninspired 2016/17 season Parish made a bigger U-turn than Theresa May on Brexit by hiring Frank De Boer. 4 Games. 4 games and a bit of preseason was all Frank De Boer was given to implement the move to passing football in a team built around an aerial threat.
Perhaps Parish had mistaken the past and proven success of counter attacking football fortika-taka passing;the new ethos was as disastrous as its predecessors. As Jermaine Jenas pointed out on 5 live, “When you’ve got a game on a Saturday and they come up against Tottenham, are they going to try and pass them off the park? Are they going to try and pass Chelsea off the park?”(3) The quality is just not currently present in the team for them to do that.
Whatever his intent, the meddling and interference of Parish and the rest of his administration has left his side impoverished and chronically weakened. The erratic changes in style has led to the criticism of Parish’s ownership as “directionless”(2) Parish seems unable to choose which ‘direction’ to take his club, while it’s his very interference that has caused such catastrophe in the first place.
It is hard for management to take firm action with an owner so invested in the style of football his team plays,even harder when that management is Roy Hodgson. The man to follow Frank De Boer, Roy Hodgson, has shown little to no promise. A man whose career peaked many moons ago, he was poor at Liverpool and even worse for England. Hodgson is too stuck in an old style of play to ingratiate any real change at Crystal Palace, it seems their only future is now relegation. It seems foolish to prophesise their fate this early on but it seems inevitable
What remains to be decided is their legacy, will this be the worst ever team to grace the premier league? A faint glimmer of hope is the players returning from injury, but that day is a long way away. This, coupled with the past incompetence of both owner and management, bears even graver omen.
The vicious cycle is set to continue with the low morale that their record-breaking losses bring. The former determination and grit that won them points and earnt their place in the premier league has vanished. Their self-esteem in tatters, leadership lacking and talent missing,Crystal Palace are doomed.
The perfect storm is brewing and the stage is set for a calamitous third act.
- BBC Radio 5 live