So, here we are – another season in the Premier League beckons, but what kind of season will it be?
A season of progression and improvement, maybe a top six/seven finish that will bring a European tour we have all dreamed of? Or, will this be the season that the wheels come off and the relegation we have flirted with nearly every season comes to pass?
Clearly I am hoping for the former but am I also realistic enough to know that even after six consecutive seasons in the Premier League relegation, will always be a threat unless someone buys the club and is prepared to put hundreds of millions into the club every season.
In theory, all is good in the Palace world. We have come off a season where we had our highest points total ever in the Premier League. We were never in the relegation zone at the end of any round of matches (a first since promotion in 2013) and have actually not changed manager in nearly two years.
We achieved this despite losing one of our marquee signings (Yohan Cabaye) and one of the top young English midfielders (Rueben Loftus-Cheek) and replacing them with a free transfer (Max Meyer) and a £10million signing (Cheikhou Kouyate). Finally, we already have £45million extra in the bank thanks to the sale of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Whilst it is sad that we have lost our player of the year, particularly one who is young and a local hero, that amount of money for a right back has got to be good news.
Notwithstanding all this good news, life for a Palace supporter is not particularly comfortable. Having said that, what football supporter does feel comfortable at the start of a season? This transfer window feels particularly crucial for us. If Wilfried Zaha does leave and we do not spend the money from that and AWB wisely we will be in for a tough season. Keep Zaha and spend the AWB money (or at least some of it) well and we should be able to at least replicate our achievements of last season.
Our spending record is actually not too bad over the past few years. When we have spent the money and bought quality generally it has worked out. Mamadou Sakho, Cabaye, Luka Milivoyevic, Kouyate, Patrick van Aanholt, Jeffrey Schlupp and Vicente Guaita (and he was a free transfer) have all made significant contributions even if they have all been subject to criticism from time to time.
Even Christian Benteke scored 17 goals in his first season with us. Our risky/bargain signings have been just that, i.e. they have not worked out so well. I am thinking Jach and Sorloth. Having said that, the jury is still out on the Norwegian striker, although for £10million he has not been a cheap risk.
The biggest issue is Zaha, of course. Again. Every close season he and the club flirt with a departure and so far every time he is back where he belongs. The pressure, however, grows every season as it becomes clearer that European football with us is a long shot and with every passing year Wilf’s opportunity to perform at the highest level will diminish due to his age.
If press reports are to believed, the club recognise that for the right bid he should be allowed to go. The question is whether Arsenal have the money (so far it looks like they don’t) and then whether Wilf can set aside his dream for another season and put his all Into providing the goals and assists he did last season.
I am really hoping the answers to these questions are no, Arsenal can’t find the money, and yes Wilf will have another great season for us.
I have in a previous piece last season suggested that Wilf leaving us (for the right money) would not necessarily be the end of Palace as we know it. Although lots of people disagreed with me, I still think this is the case.
It is unhealthy for us to be so dependent on one player and as much as we might want to deny it, there will come a time when we will have kick the Wilf habit, either because he does leave or gets too old. Better to kick the habit when we have some money to spend and relative stability at the club. I must emphasise, however, (before I get too much stick) that I really want him to stay and any silver lining re the benefits of Wilf leaving are just that – it will still be a very dark day if Wilf does leave us.
Do I have an answer to the question I posed at the beginning of this piece? Sadly, if I did I would be either running the club or made millions on placing all the right bets. As neither of these are the case, the conclusion is that I have no better clue than anyone else.
What I am certain of is the best case scenario will be a marginal improvement on last season (a few more home wins, taking some points off either or both of Brighton and Watford would be nice) and a worst case will be a relegation battle which will be familiar territory.
Whatever happens I suspect it will not be short of drama because that is what Palace do.