Like nearly every Palace supporter, I have been rubbing my eyes the past few weeks to make sure I am not seeing things.
Are we really playing attractive possession based football? Do we really have the players of an age and with the quality to successfully play this style of football? Are we really a club which beat Manchester City away 2-0 and Wolves at home by the same score line on consecutive weekends? The answer of course is “yes”! The only people who might not be rubbing their eyes in disbelief are Patrick Vieira, Steve Parish and Dougie Freedman. Even then, I wonder whether there is an element of pleasant surprise as to how well and how quickly things have changed.
I should say upfront that although I am taking the opportunity in the piece to thank Roy Hodgson for enabling the club to get its current position, the ultimate architects of Palace’s current positive position are the Chairman, Steve Parish, the Sporting Director Dougie Freedman, and the rest of the ownership and senior management team. I am focussing on Roy now, however, because he is in Palace’s past but he really does deserve more gratitude and credit from the supporters for where we are now.
Things really seem to be clicking into place for Parish, Freedman & Co but I am really hoping this is a sign of more to come so we should wait to write the book on the Parish legacy. Of course I am hoping that book is a long one and has a happy ending!
I had vowed to myself that I would not bring up Roy during the early part of the season. I was wary of being perceived as one of the “ be careful what you wish for” crowd (which, to be honest, is how I felt at the end of last season) moaning about how we should have stuck with Roy. It is to Patrick Vieira’s credit that I have ditched that resolution due to the quality of our football under his management, our excellent start to the season and his evident love for Palace already.
I got thinking about Roy’s legacy as a result of his appearance at the Academy launch a few weeks ago and his recent appearance on Sky talking about Palace’s season amongst other things. Although no one (other than I suspect Steve, Dougie and Roy) will really know what discussions took place at the start of and during Roy’s tenure, my guess is he more or less knew what he was getting into when he signed on to become Palace manager after the first disastrous four matches under Frank De Boer at the start of the 2017-18 season. “ Save Palace from relegation and see how it goes from there…” is my guess. I doubt he was promised a huge transfer budget although I am not sure whether he knew in advance the full extent of the “make do or mend” job he ended up doing.
The reality is Roy was given a net negative spend during his four years with a steadily ageing squad which was not really that young when he took over! Although I am a keen supporter of Roy (we know you never stop banging on about him, I hear you say!) I do recognise he was not perfect with a default style that was cautious both in terms of tactics and player selection. Tried and tested was clearly Roy’s mantra and although it worked fantastically well in terms of results, it did not generally lead to exciting and enjoyable football for spectators.
Despite these limitations, every Palace supporter should be hugely grateful to Roy for comfortably keeping us in the Premier League for four seasons with a squad which was getting older each year with only marginal additions to the squad on free or low cost transfers. The bottom line is the core of the squad in May 2021 was very similar to that in August 2017 and I can confidently say that we were the only Premier League club in that position.
The money saved by the club including the proceeds of the Aaron Wan-Bissaka transfer enabled the club to execute their strategy of letting the expensive older players go at no cost reducing a wage bill which was out of kilter with our overall financial position. As I have already mentioned credit has to go to Steve Parish & Co for the execution of that strategy but without Roy Hodgson’s management skills the past couple of years could have been much more difficult.
Roy achieved all of this without fuss or histrionics. Most Premier League managers handed the cards Roy was dealt – no money, an ageing squad and continual uncertainty about his own contractual position (at least for the second half of his tenure) would have been regularly complaining both publicly and privately. I have no idea what the conversations were like behind closed doors but publicly Roy kept his cool and dignity in a way that made me proud that he was our manager.
Finally despite all the criticism of Roy for his preference for the tried and tested players, his judgement regarding our younger players, with hindsight, has been very good. Although circumstances helped Wan-Bissaka to get his opportunity, Roy recognised his talent and stuck with him so that he developed into the £45 million right back he has become. Likewise Roy identified Tyrick Mitchell as the one of the few prospects which were good enough to be a first team regular. Although injuries held him back initially Tyrick has blossomed into our first choice left back with Gareth Southgate monitoring his progress.
Although it may be too early to declare victory in the transition to Vieira’s style of football (we are only roughly 30% through the season after all), the signs are looking very good. Before the Hodgson era fades too much into history, his contribution to our progress should be recognised and appreciated. I am not holding my breath for a statue or anything like that, but maybe one day the Hodgson Lounge might be welcoming supporters into Selhurst Park.