What a difference a day makes. If I had written this preview yesterday, as I had intended, the piece you’re about to read would have been radically contrasting. With Tony Pulis at the helm, Crystal Palace seemed untouchable. The club that just last year were tipped by every football pundit to face an immediate return to the Championship weren’t even in the conversation this time around – a striking testament to the manager and his team.
But now, one day before kick off, Crystal Palace are back in the picture. With the sudden departure of Tony Pulis officially announced this morning (pertaining to transfer disputes with chairman Steve Parish) came the tumbling odds and the rolling bandwagons, all heralding inevitable relegation. Or so they say.
Tony Pulis may have been seen as the sure-fire guarantee of Crystal Palace’s Premier League security, but there are other managers that can be the same. With so many names in the mix, with so many points to play for, and a playing squad that know safety is within them, what can Crystal Palace fans expect from the 2014/15 Premier League season?
Tony Pulis (Mutual consent) - The biggest loss this summer for Palace is undoubtedly last season’s “Manager of the Year” award winner, Tony Pulis. When Ian Holloway stepped down last October, citing a lack of the necessary energy to keep the club afloat, chairman Steve Parish admitted he was “already preparing for relegation”. Little did he – or the rest of the footballing world – know that in hiring Tony Pulis, he would buy the Golden Ticket to Premier League safety. Despite the ridiculous nature of the possibility, Pulis kept Palace up with aplomb, and even managed to cost Liverpool the Premier League title along the way. But now, as stories of friction over transfers began to emerge, Pulis leaves the club in a state of uncertainty. Perhaps by the time you’ve finished reading their “Transfer Out” and “Transfer In” sections, the decision may become a lot more understandable.
Jonathan Parr (Ipswich Town, Free) - Considering the vast hit-list of Crystal Palace freebies this summer, we shall have to focus on a select few – we start with Jonathan Parr, one of the few players I imagined Pulis would be keen to keep within his ranks. The left-sided wing-back arrived in London back in 2011, and won the hearts of supporters with his incredible work-rate and commendable attacking endeavor. At 25 years old, Parr could still grow in to the demands of the Premier League, but unfortunately, will have to do it the hard way after his release. Signing for Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town, Parr has a new platform on which to display his ability and potential, and may prove a bigger loss than Crystal Palace envisaged.
Jose Campana (Sampdoria, £1.5m) - When my Football Manager 2012 starlet Jose Campana made the move to Crystal Palace last summer, I was desperate to see him achieve. Unfortunately for me, Jose and Palace, the marriage was not a happy one. Before long, Campana had been sent on loan to Nurnberg, and this summer, was swiftly sent off to Sampdoria for a fee in the region of £1.5m. The move may go some way to explaining Tony Pulis’ eventual departure, too; Campana is one of only two players to leave the club for a transfer fee (Ross Fitzsimons’ move to Bolton the only other), and for a measly fee, at that. How much money did Pulis really have at his disposal? Should they have fought a little harder for a bigger fee, or kept Campana back rather than accept such a modest bid? I suppose we’ll never know.
Kagisho Dikgacoi (Cardiff City, Free) - Holding midfielders are often unsung heroes in football, but Crystal Palace’s Kagisho Dikgacoi wasn’t one of them. Always putting himself about, always breaking up play, Dikgacoi was one of the brightest defensive talents in Crystal Palace’s ranks last season. Indeed, Dikgacoi played only one less game than Southampton’s Jack Cork last term, and a quick look at Squawka’s Comparison Matrix reveals his influence. Yet again, Crystal Palace lost a key figure in last year’s survival, and perhaps worst of all, lost him for nothing.
Also out Stephen Dobbie (Fleetwood Town, Loan) Owen Garvan (Millwall, Loan) Jack Hunt (Nottingham Forest, Loan) Aaron Wilbraham (Bristol City, Free) Dean Moxey (Bolton Wanderers, Free) Elliot Grandin (Blackpool, Free)
Frazier Campbell (Cardiff City, £900k) - Frazier Campbell may not be a name that sets aflame the hearts of his clubs fan base, but what he lacks in impact he makes up for in finishing ability. While not likely to score 20 a season, Campbell has a wealth of Premier League experience at various different clubs, as well as his explosive pace. For a team always likely to be playing on the counter attack, Frazier Campbell was the prime candidate for the position, considering his price tag. Who knows if the next manager will place the same faith in him as Pulis did, however.
Brede Hangeland (Fulham, Free) - Brede Hangeland was one of the hottest properties on the free transfer market this summer, and it was almost inevitable that he’d plum for Tony Pulis’ resolute Crystal Palace. Hangeland will bring both experience and stability to a back-line that had already shown its self to be better than the sum of its parts under Pulis last season. With a point to prove after his acrimonious departure from Felix Magath’s Fulham, Hangeland should be one of the most dependable transfers of the summer. But, Brede also fills the feel-hard story of the summer, too, as he now prepares for life under his FIFTH full-time manager in a year (Martin Jol, Rene Muelensteen, Felix Magath, Tony Pulis, N/A).
Martin Kelly (Liverpool, £1.5m) - Was it something he said? Martin Kelly has the ignominy of joining the club the same day as Tony Pulis’ frustrations over the clubs transfer policy were revealed – not that we’re suggesting the two incidents are related. Martin Kelly is a solid enough acquisition for the Eagles – experienced enough in the Premier League to enter the back-line comfortably, but still young enough for development and improvement. Who knows what the future must hold for young Martin, however, after all the chaos on day one of life at Crystal Palace.
PREDICTED STARTING XI
Speroni; Kelly, Hangeland, Dann, Ward; Ledley, Jedinak; Bolasie, Puncheon, Bannan; Chamakh
Depth of replacement - One of the biggest advantages Crystal Palace have on their side is the sheer pool of managerial talent currently out of work. Steve Parish has a deep ocean of possibilities, and a manager to suit any direction he wishes to take the club in. If Parish wants safety and ambition, perhaps David Moyes could be persuaded to exit the shadows and try his hand at the Palace wheel. If Parish wants to see the club in a safe position whether relegated or not, perhaps Malky Mackay, Steve Clarke, Neil Lennon or Tim Sherwood will be fielding a call or two. If Parish thinks the club are ready to take a new direction, perhaps Oscar Garcia, Pepe Mel or another foreign manager could be the choice. Or, if Parish is resigned to relegation, sees a future of hardship and restructuring ahead, perhaps he’d like to take on a young, hungry manager from the lower leagues – the likes of Karl Robinson, Eddie Howe or Chris Powell. The possibilities really are endless.
Defense - Clearly, Tony Pulis is the master of locking the back door. But even with Pulis gone, the Crystal Palace back-line is a strong old unit, capable of repelling the forces of the Premier League. No matter who comes in next, they should be cautious of trying to change the back line – if left to play as they did under Pulis, there’s no reason to suggest Palace’s defense won’t survive the transitional period.
Knowledge is power - Crystal Palace were everyone’s pick for relegation last year. A Championship team making Championship improvements is always a recipe for disaster in the Premier League, and although we can all wax lyrically over Pulis’ incredible achievements in keeping them up, the club has to remember it as less of Pulis’ work, and more so as their own. They have repelled relegation once. They need to remember it can be done again.
Attacking flair - Bolasie, Bannan and Puncheon may not be the most frightening attacking three you’ll ever see, but for Crystal Palace they will be invaluable assets this season. They all boast speed, technique and a wide range of passes, with Bolasie and Puncheon in particular well versed in skipping past defenders with impunity. The fluid movement up top will be one of the most useful tools in Crystal Palace’s play book.
Fan unrest - The fans of Crystal Palace will have been put through the wringer in the last 24 hours, and Steve Parish will be the man to blame. The feeling of comfort that came with Tony Pulis’ leadership will have been a soft pillow for fans to rest upon this summer, but that comfort has been replaced with fear, frustration and anger. Parish will face a backlash for allowing Tony Pulis to leave, and will have to appease the supporters with his next appointment. The fans expect a steady hand with Premier League ambition, relegation repellent and Championship nous, just in case. One wrong move, and Parish may become public enemy number one.
Offensive options - With only three notable strikers on the books, none of whom are destined to score more than 10/12 goals in a given Premier League season, Crystal Palace’s biggest fight will be up front. Despite the creativity that sits behind them, are Chamakh, Gayle or Campbell capable of scoring the goals the club will need, especially if the goals begin to trickle in behind them?
Painful transition - The players have enjoyed an entire pre-season under Tony Pulis, learning his style and perfecting it without the stress of earning and losing Premier League points. To have lost your manager one day before the beginning of the Premier League season, to endure the speculation in the media and the discontentment in the stands, and eventually, to bend to the a new style of training and playing, will be a tough period of transition for them all. Crystal Palace’s first 10/15 games will be hugely important in their fight to stay up.
PREDICTED FINISH: 17th/18th
It’s very tough to predict Crystal Palace for me. Yesterday, I would have said 14th/15th. Sturdy and safe, like any good side still molding the squad in to a Premier League main-stay. Today, I have to re-evaluate. The squad will likely suffer hugely from the loss of Tony Pulis, and will need to find a new gear to guarantee safety.
But those who are all too ready to condemn Crystal Palace to relegation act as though Pulis is one of a kind, never to be replaced. A new man CAN keep this club up – Steve Clarke, Neil Lennon, David Moyes, even Malky Mackay, all have a fair chance of that. This is what I have to base my prediction from. I don’t expect David Moyes to pick up another poisoned chalice – he’ll want something a bit more reliable, and for that reason, I suspect Palace will survive by the skin of their teeth – or trip at the final hurdle.
I never like to be so doom-and-gloom about a club or their fortunes, but with Crystal Palace I have no option. The side is under-developed, caught in a cache-22 of Championship talent and mid-table Premier League potential, rocked by the departure of a manager who could have – and should have been allowed to – develop that side in to one of security and relentless defiance, like that of Stoke City. But who’s to say Crystal Palace can’t find the Roberto Martinez to their Wigan? Who’s to say the next man through the door can’t keep the Eagles air-born? It will be tough, and Palace will need to be on their game to clamber over the likes of Aston Villa, West Brom and Leicester – but it can be done.