We currently sit on 37 points after 29 games and although we are not mathematically safe, we should now have a run in which does not involve any relegation worries.
Given the challenges we have faced – an ageing squad and one of the longest injuries lists in the Premier League (almost certainly a link between the two) that is an accomplishment not to be sniffed at. Despite this fantastic achievement we currently have a manager and a significant number of the squad who are out of contract at the end of the season. The situation with the squad merits a separate review but the focus for now is on the manager, Roy Hodgson.
Given Roy’s record a new contract, on the face of it, should have been done and dusted some time ago. We have not been in the relegation zone for three years. Prior to Roy’s arrival we were either in the relegation zone at least once (if not much longer) or flirted dangerously with it every season we were in the Premier League. Between 2013 and Roy’s arrival in September 2017 we had a constant turnover of managers who either ditched us as quickly as they could (Pulis and Allardyce) or were incapable of keeping up the flow of wins and draws we needed to stay in the league (Holloway, Warnock, Pardew and De Boer).
Clearly Alan Pardew was the most successful of those managers and got us to an FA Cup Final, but ultimately he was incapable of stopping the nosedive which left us with the worst record in all four divisions of English football in the 2016 calendar year. Roy Hodgson has been with us for the best part of four seasons now and kept us performing consistently well with next to no outlay on players and has done so with dignity and class. It is clear the esteem that other managers hold Roy when the likes of Pep Guardiola are seen deep in conversation with him both before, after and even during matches against us. Despite all this Roy’s status remains unclear and there is certainly speculation that this will be his last season with us.
Of course the biggest issue is our playing style under Roy. I recall vividly when Roy came in, my initial reaction was – another dour defensive manager like Pulis and Allardyce – how boring, but hopefully he can save us. I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the football we played as that first season developed. Yes, the emphasis was on a solid defensive shape but at the same time particularly in the latter parts of the season (even before we were safe) we were playing complex, fast moving passing football with the likes of Zaha, Loftus-Cheek, Van Annholt and Cabaye dazzling the opposition. There were moments in both those first two seasons under Roy where the football was top quality and certainly the best I have ever seen supporting Palace. Over the past two seasons the excitement levels have dropped as the average squad age has risen and recruitment (or quality in recruitment – Sorloth, Meyer, Jach) has similarly dropped.
There is no doubt that since the very necessary spending spree under Sam Allardyce the owners of the club have taken a very prudent financial approach and appear to only be willing to spend the bare minimum to make sure we stay in the Premier League. The squad and Roy have both suffered as a result and Roy correctly (in my opinion) has adopted a very cautious and defensive playing style to get us the points we have needed each season. At various points over the past couple of seasons, namely the run in last season and the consecutive losses this season to Liverpool and Villa in December and Leeds and Burnley in February, I did begin to wonder whether Roy had lost his ability to find a way to grind out wins but every time he and the squad have come up with right result when needed.
The other factor, which cannot be totally ignored, I am afraid, is Roy’s age. Not because it in any way affects his managerial ability since he has clearly proved over the past four seasons that it has not. He is, however, already the oldest manager in Premier League history and it is a sad fact of life that he will not be able to carry on forever. My preference would be to transition to a new manager in a manner which suits Roy and the club as opposed to it having to be done in a crisis. Having said all this the US have just elected a President who is five years older than Roy so maybe the worry here is overblown.
Given the squad age and number of players out of contract, there is going to have to be new (and hopefully younger) players coming in for next season. The recent recruitment of Ferguson, Eze and Mateta demonstrates this is already happening and I think Roy deserves the opportunity (should he want it) to work with these younger players and start to rebuild our squad. Given the right players I have no doubt he would have us playing better football even if he will never abandon his preference for a well organised and well drilled team.
If Roy does decide to call time on his role with Palace, or vice versa, every single Palace supporter should be grateful and appreciate the excellent job he has done for us. I remember wishing at the start of Frank De Boer’s time with us that he could give us some seasons of stability without fears of changing our managers every six months or having sleepless nights over relegation. Roy Hodgson has given us exactly that with no money and no drama or histrionics.
Despite what some of our supporters believe the likely alternative to Roy’s drama free results (and football at times admittedly), given our previous history, is chaos and relegation worries again. I still know what I prefer.