With the consensus being that we should be in the Premier League again next season (although it is not a mathematical certainty yet), everyone’s thoughts are turning to next season and what happens over the summer.
With there being so much uncertainty surrounding the manager and the number of players out of contract, the next four or five months are going to be really significant in determining the future direction of Crystal Palace Football Club.
Starting with the manager, it will surprise no-one who has read my previous pieces for TEB that I would prefer at least one more season for Roy Hodgson. Despite a disastrous end to last season and an even older squad than last year, he has managed again to keep us safely clear of the relegation zone. I know the football has not been easy on the eye for most of the season, but I do think people have severely underestimated how well Hodgson has done. I just hope people understand this with hindsight in future seasons. The club has realised the squad needs to be freshened up and the average age of the squad brought down.
The bringing in of Eze, and Mateta has started this process. I really would like to see what Roy could do with a talented but younger squad next season but I fear (based on the lack of contract news for him) that this is looking increasingly unlikely. The quality of the some of the football we played in Roy’s first two years in charge when the squad was younger and we had the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (at least in Roy’s first season in charge) shows that Roy can get his teams playing exciting football, given the right ingredients. It is true, however, that even if I got my wish, Roy’s age means that we would only be delaying the inevitable so if we do say farewell to Roy, I can understand the logic of managing a transition which is going to have to happen at some point.
Given the uncertainty regarding the managerial situation, there has been increasing speculation about who the new manager might be. To my mind there is little point in adding to that speculation here. All I will say is that whilst the (football) romantic in me would say it would be great to give an inexperienced Premier League manager a go (Patrick Viieira, Valerien Ishmael or Frank Lampard), it would present a real risk to our Premier League status, particularly if there is a wholesale transformation of the playing squad at the same time. Unlike consistent top ten clubs, our margin for error in taking such a risk is too high. A drop of a few places for us does not mean a disappointing season of mid-table mediocrity; it means relegation and financial disaster. On that basis, if we do not renew Roy’s contract I hope we do go for a manager with meaningful Premier League experience.
The other big question is who will be in our squad next season. Once again there has been a huge amount of speculation about who is going, staying and possibly coming in. My hope is that we are able to strike a good balance between retaining the squad members we want, reducing our wage bill and using the savings to continue the refreshment of the squad which started last summer. As there is a general view that the COVID pandemic has resulted in a buyers market for players I am hoping that we will be able to use any funds available to pick up the right squad members for the right amount of money.
Both the Under 23 and 18 teams have done well in our first season as a Category One Academy, especially the Under 18s. It is clear we have some very talented young players who whilst not ready for the Premier League yet, could be in two or three years. In the meantime we need to find a way to continue our stay in the Premier League to allow the time for our Academy players to develop into the next Wilfried Zahas or Aaron Wan-Bissakas. Of course not every Academy player will do this, but even a handful could help to transform the finances or the quality of our playing squad, or both!
Although Steve Parish has put the occasional foot wrong (he is not superhuman after all), only the most churlish of Palace supporters would fail to recognise what he has achieved. Nine consecutive years in the Premier League is by far the best Palace performance in our history. When combined with the transformation of the Academy and (hopefully) the redevelopment of Selhurst Park, Steve Parish and the rest of the club ownership are building something which could transform Palace into a sustainable, financially viable and well established Premier League club.
That is something no-one would have thought possible when we went into administration in 2010. If we can successfully negotiate the tricky transitional period, which started last summer, we should be able start to bring in the fruits of our Academy development and really strengthen our squad and financial firepower should we decide to sell some of the players we develop. If we are unable to retain our Premier League status, I would hope it would not be a disaster in terms of the development of our future star players, but it does make life harder.
Under Steve Parish’s stewardship, Palace has been transformed and his track record gives me hope that we will take the right path when we approach the significant changes, which are almost certainly coming this summer. Make no mistake, some big decisions are looming though and these will impact all our futures as Palace supporters in the coming years.