When I wrote my piece for TEB in May, I was confident that in June there would be lots of Palace news to comment on. Well, as I write this it is now July and there is still nothing concrete to write about. By the time I finish this piece that could all change but we will see.
I know it is something I have said numerous times over the past year, but 2021-22 will be a critical transitional season for Crystal Palace Football Club. The departure of Roy Hodgson and a significant number of the playing squad ensures that. If the Palace hierarchy can manage this transition correctly we may end up with a younger and more dynamic playing squad, which will enable us to move on from the cautious, safety first football which Roy Hodgson had to resort to for the past two seasons.
A successful transition will also enable us to gradually bring in some of the clearly talented players we have in our Development and Academy squads over the next two or three years. For those that make it we will have a crop of the next Wilfried Zaha’s and Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s coming through and for those that cannot make it into the first team, hopefully they will still be talented enough to command transfer fees to partially fund future acquisitions.
The investment in the Academy and (hopefully) the new Main Stand, will lay down the foundations of a financially sustainable football club, which is less reliant on cash injections from the owners to keep the playing squad in a position to stay and thrive in the Premier League.
Unfortunately, this grand vision of the future requires us to stay in the Premier League and that is where every Palace supporter will have some worries, at this moment. With pre-season officially starting on 5 July we currently have no manager and depending on how one looks at it, we have an available playing squad of somewhere between ten and fifteen players. Recent past history has shown that Palace are not the quickest at finalising player (or manager) acquisitions and no one will be keen to start the season with an unfinished or weak squad and a new manager still trying to find their feet as the early season points slip away.
I have also said for some time that Roy’s four years of stability (and boring, stodgy football I hear some of you say) has provided the Palace hierarchy with a strong safety net which has now been pulled away. Of course, I do not know what has gone on behind the scenes but on the face of it Roy had delivered top flight mid-table safety with minimal player recruitment and fuss, drama or histrionics. Given Palace’s previous over hundred year history that is not an achievement to be sniffed at.
It has not all been smooth sailing with criticisms of playing style, not playing a number of the loan or new recruits and slow or odd substitutions in matches. In any event, there is no point reflecting on the past (even if it is very recent). We need to focus on the future. At the moment that future looks to be a reversion to the uncertainty, confusion and drama which was pretty much the life of every Palace supporter pre-Roy. I have recently made references to the Palace rollercoaster starting up after being put into storage for the past four years. I was not expecting it to start up before we have even got to pre-season!
Notwithstanding the shambles, which superficially we seem to be in right now, I am a long way from any real concern. For all we know behind the scenes the finishing touches to the master plan (or at least a plan) are being finalised and will be shared with us all in the coming days/weeks. The club’s management team have done an incredible job since 2010 and eleven years of success and an overall upward trajectory does not happen by luck. That comes from hard work, astute decisions and a willingness to admit to mistakes quickly and do something about them when that is needed.
Having said that just because we have had eight years in the Premier League there is no pre-ordination that we will and should stay there. Every club of our size has been relegated from the Premier League at least once since 1992, regardless of how long their stay has been. All you need is a couple of mistakes and some bad luck and hey presto you are back in the Championship. Just ask supporters of Stoke City, Swansea City, West Brom and Southampton. I would absolutely love for Place to be the exception to this pattern, but I am equally prepared for that relegation whenever it does come.
Any realistic Palace supporter should be on the one hand approaching this season with some trepidation but at the same time with the expectation that it will not be boring. The longer it takes to sort out the manager and squad the more the anxiety will grow, but Steve Parish and the rest of the management team have either made the right decisions or quickly fixed their mistakes since they took over in 2010 and I am confident we will get to the right place again.
Just fasten that seatbelt for the inevitable ups and downs to come!