Crystal Palace revert to short-term policy after ditching Frank de Boer experiment | Dominic Fifield
The Dutchman was hired by Steve Parish to implement a new style but was never given the time or the tools to succeed in an unforgiving league
Steve Parish had taken to Twitter on Sunday night on the way back from Burnley and his teams latest scoreless defeat. There were irate supporters to address and plenty of disgruntled fans pointing fingers at a board who, up to now, have been relatively immune to criticism given their achievements in hoisting Crystal Palace from the second tier. The chairmans responses verged on the defiant, from football teams lose games to we know we are better than this. In among the series of tweets, too, was one suggesting we have to stick together.
As it transpired that call for unity, echoed by first-team players on social media, did not extend to the relationship between hierarchy and manager. After a night contemplating what happens next, Palace confirmed Frank de Boers tenure would not extend beyond the 11-week mark, provoking an understandable wave of bewilderment from those on the outside looking in.
Why sack De Boer for managing like De Boer? Surely he needed proper time, and more investment, to instigate the change in style even Parish had acknowledged was desirable? Did the improved performance at Turf Moor, where 23 chances were created but none taken, not demand a stay of execution at least until Saturdays visit of Southampton?
Parish and the clubs American major shareholders, David Blitzer and Josh Harris, who were in attendance in Lancashire, would acknowledge that logic. They would surely concede, too, that mistakes have been made. Embarrassing errors that damn all the due diligence conducted over that month-long summer recruitment process following Sam Allardyces surprise resignation. The chairman, it should not be forgotten, had admitted every time a manager fails at this club, I fail, so if Frank fails it is my failure too.
There is no hiding from this fiasco, whether or not talk of fans protests is followed through on Saturday lunchtime, or even if Palace rouse themselves under Roy Hodgson to clamber clear of trouble. The fact remains that it was always unreasonable to expect a manager schooled in one clear footballing way to be parachuted into a club and an unfamiliar league and successfully change everything overnight. He is even less likely to succeed if his squad are bolstered by only two young loanees and a 7.9m signing from Ajax. There was a splurge on Mamadou Sakho, a talismanic figure for Allardyces side last term, on deadline day but, by then, De Boers influence on transfer policy had all but evaporated. Looking back, what chance did he realistically have?
Not that the owners will have warmed to the idea of Palace becoming a laughing stock. There is nothing to celebrate in a club emulating a 93-year record for dismal top-flight starts one day, then casting the manager adrift after the fewest number of games in charge the next. But at some stage, for all the desire to develop on the pitch, fear kicks in. Palace cannot afford to drop out of this division. This is a fifth year at elite level, the longest in their history, and their wage bill has never been higher. The owners it is safe to assume the American investors, in particular cannot contemplate slipping into the Championship. Once De Boer offered no clear plan as to how he would kickstart the teams season in a meeting with Parish and the sporting director, Dougie Freedman, on the last Monday in August, the writing was on the wall.
Given the schism that had developed behind the scenes, the surprise was not that the axe fell after four games but that the manager had still been in charge for the trip to Burnley. This relationship had fractured beyond repair after the defeat by Swansea last month when a manager who had pledged for most of the week to revert to a more comfortable system had ended up reverting to type just before kick-off in selection and tactics. The sight of the Dutchman bemoaning his players lack of courage on the ball in his post-match observations was too much for the owners to accept. One would have hoped the interview process might have highlighted any potential personality clash but clearly something had been lost in translation mid-summer. De Boer had apparently pledged evolution, not revolution but his approach suggested otherwise. Parish might argue some of the Dutchmans tactics were evidence he had been hoodwinked.