Now the season is over, looking back just one year shows us how fast changes are happening at the Palace.
This time last year, Palace were in a tough spot – fans locked out and crying out for entertainment, nervous at expiring contracts for manager and exprienced players, and the club obviously short of cash with what turned out to be a whopping £76million quid loss in the latest financial year. Wow! What a year we’ve had since then!
New owner, new manager, new players all contributing heavily to a very front foot approach on and off the field. Tedious containment and gloom replaced by entertaining skilful play and unbounded optimism. Here we step into the shoes of ten key people and see how they contributed to this remarkable transformation that has delivered an exciting new reality to the club we love.
This time last year, over 25,000 Palace supporters had no clue who this man was. Now, he’s arguably the most important person at Palace. By a big margin, he owns more shares than anyone else and evidently has a vision of building a global football club empire, where passionate fans reportedly already move him so much they make him cry. Under the Textor blueprint, Palace have already made great strides and will enjoy benefits of synergies including joint player development with other clubs Textor owns or controls, including the sleeping giant of Brazilian football, Botafogo.
Twelve months ago, Steve must have been a worried man, preoccupied with two tasks in particular – one very much behind the scenes, the other in front of our very eyes. With little fanfare, Steve brought in John Textor with £87million of desperately needed new capital to invest in the club. This money was used to fund a stunning summer of player recruitment, while in manager recruitment Steve diced with disaster (reportedly flirting with Nuno, Ismael and Dyche – all since fired for their failure in the job) before the master stroke of bringing Patrick Vieira in to replace Roy Hodgson.
Steve is now contemplating how and when Palace can build on foundations that have taken him 12 years to put in place, to make Palace a steady top half team in the Premier League with half an eye on Europe. While Financial Fair Play rules could yet limit his dreams in the transfer market, it helps that the Academy production line looks so attractive right now.
Another constant concern must be the need to balance on-pitch progress with the need to increase capacity and modernise the Main Stand. Finally, Steve knows his hunt for new investors must seem never ending as the American hedge fund investors (Blitzer and Harris, who reportedly own 22% of Palace, purchased 6 years ago) have now made clear their desire to leave Palace – their fancy last month was Chelsea, only for that adventure to fail at the final hurdle. Steve can’t rely on Blitzer and Harris to stay much longer.
This time last year, with new signings a rarity since Allardyce’s 2017 January transfer window splurge, most of us were in the dark about The Doog’s hard work to identify and entice agents and players who could help Palace deliver the bright future that he was selling to them. His quiet yet sterling efforts helped produce the magical combo we all watched open-mouthed last summer – squad upgrades at the same time as a hefty £13million slashed off the playing staff wage bill.
Now, with Phase 1 complete, Freedman and his team of scouts will have built a list of players Palace need to sign this summer to replace every one of the first team squad players who will be out of contract in the next 2 months – McArthur, Tomkins, Kouyate, Clyne, Ayew, Schlupp, Kelly and, of course, Gallagher. Some will be re-recruited, but make no mistake, the task is huge.
This time last year, Patrick was between managerial jobs and happy to join a TV panel of experts to assess the upcoming 2020 Euros. Twelve months back, Palace did not plan to hire Patrick and, to be fair, it probably didn’t cross his mind to go for a job that some big names (including Frank Lampard) reportedly did not fancy. But now he’s brought to SE25 his world-class hero status, his unparalleled Premier League experience as hugely successful player and captain, his charming smile, his inner steel, his management team and his management skills, and he’s rapidly shed the mantle of being a Premier League novice as well as being last summer’s bookies’ favourite to be fired first.
Already, Patrick has become the 11th longest serving manager in the Premier League, he’s been nominated for Manager of the Season, and he’s earning (and deserving) praise from all quarters as a fast rising star among managers in this highly competitive League. His vision, his ideas, his standards and his knowhow have brought more exciting performances, more points, a higher League position and an exciting FA Cup run all the way to the semi-final – and, if a long term relationship can be established, the future will surely look dazzlingly bright for fans, players and owners of Palace, as well as for Patrick, of course. Fingers crossed, after the sickening events at Everton, that Patrick and his wife don’t just decide to pack their bags and leave this country.
This time last year, based on body language and performances, Wilf was coming to the end of a season that no doubt disappointed him as well as us. And, at that time, with 2 years left on a contract he signed a long time ago, Wilf must’ve wondered how much longer he would be forced to carry on his shoulders his beloved Palace when it was almost impossible for the team to win without him.
Now, revitalised by working for Patrick, his numbers show this was his best ever season (14 goals and 1 assist in 33 PL matches), looking good compared with Saka (11 goals and 7 assists in 38 PL games), Ziyech (4 goals and 3 assists in 23 PL games), Benrahma (8 goals, 6 assists in 32 PL games) and Leon Bailey (1 goal and 2 assists in 18 PL games). But Wilf is 30 in November and now only has one year left on his contract. This summer may well see another “will-Wilf or won’t-Wilf” saga until the transfer window closes with at least 3 possible outcomes – extend his “top-paid player” contract so he can end his career at home with all of us, stay with his current contract so he can leave next summer for free, or if the club is offered enough money to let him leave now for a fee …. well, it could be tempting.
Let’s be clear. Zaha is invaluable to Palace. He is one of the few long-term proven reliable performers in the Premier League, his dribbles help the defence by taking the ball up the field, he’s the league’s most fouled player (124 this season) so he wins free kicks which put pressure on opponents, he is (surprisingly perhaps) the club’s third most successful tackler (winning 35 of 48 tackles this season) and – as we’ve seen when the shirt comes off – Wilf is a superb physical specimen who may yet have a few years in the tank.
This time last year, Gallagher was going down with the Baggies, ending a disappointing season spent under Bilic and Allardyce and wondering whether he would ever be doing any more than warming the bench at the Bridge. Now, a transformational season with 33 starts, 8 goals and 3 assists, all under the guidance of midfield genius Vieira, has seen Gallagher experience passionate supporters while learning and developing his game to such an extent that he won the award for Palace Supporters Player of the Year and became a full international for England. Depending on developments in the next 6 months, Gallagher could even be in the World Cup squad in November and, if he or Chelsea decide that he won’t be at Stamford Bridge next season, he has a host of clubs queuing up to snap him up and give him a huge pay rise, including Palace.
This time last year, he was a Chelsea kid playing Championship football, performing superbly on loan at Swansea and hoping to help them win promotion to the Premier League. Now, like his childhood buddy Conor Gallagher, he’s enjoyed a breakout season at Palace and is a full international for England with a real chance to be on the plane to Qatar in November. In his 36 starts this season, Guehi proved himself a leader on the field, he’s been team captain several times, and he was voted the Players’ Player of the Year at Palace. A quietly competent defender and a silky performer, Guehi has a skyrocketing market value. Purchased for around £20million last summer, his market value has soared. CIES Laboratory recently assessed his sale value at over £40million. And, with Ben White fetching £50million, it’s a valuation that’s hard to argue with.
This time last year, he was injured. Sad to say, the same is true now. After 2 years out of the game (except for 9 minutes at Spurs), it may be that Premier League football is beyond him BUT….. Palace have been forced to play four at the back almost all season because the right backs we have cannot play wing back to a sufficiently high standard. Patrick tried three at the back against Chelsea at Wembley and again at Villa, but it didn’t produce enough going forward. This year, if Ferguson can build on an injury-free pre-season to recreate the high-energy wing back role he filled at West Brom, Palace could have the option to gain valuable tactical flexibility by going with three at the back, using Kouyate or a new young centre back to operate alongside Andersen and Guehi.
This time last year, he was just 19 years old and building a big reputation for himself in the Championship, probably hoping a big Premier League club would come in to activate a bargain release clause at £8million. A year on, with only 12 Premier League starts bringing 2 goals and 5 assists, Olise is playing an increasingly important role adding extra dimensions to Palace play with his precise control and creative play, and his name is said to be near the top of more than one wanted list. An absolute miracle purchase by Parish and Freedman. All supporters at Slurst can only hope that Olise will stay with the Palace and avoid injuries long enough to contribute towards real future success in league and cups.
This time last year, he was a promising left back, only 21 years old but already possibly good enough to save Palace the problem of buying a replacement for Patrick Van Aanholt by successfully stepping into the shoes of an international goal scoring left back. Now, Tyrick has achieved so much. He made 35 Premier League starts, he’s the club’s top tackler, he’s now a full international for England, and has rapidly and oh so calmly proved himself in every way at Premier League level. Every time Tyrick makes a tackle and emerges with the ball in his control, it makes me smile. Not surprisingly, Mitchell’s transfer value has soared. From £6.3million this time last year, Transfermarkt says it’s now £15.3million.
WHAT ABOUT US?
For the average Palace fan, this time last year felt very different. The virus made empty stadiums seem almost normal and the raw, unparalleled experience of “going to the game” was a memory more than one year old. The team was uninspiring, heavily dependent on Zaha, and as Roy’s fingers were prised from the controls, Palace were a strong pre-season favourite for relegation with Watford and Norwich.
Now, a year later, Slurst is thankfully operating at full volume and Palace have become a tough opponent for visitors to SE25. Patrick and his talented and youthful team have taken us to Wembley and increasingly we’re fun to watch at the top levels of English football. Under way, we have a true transformation and we can honestly say today that it’s been decades since any Palace fan could justifiably make that claim!