Another Transfer Window closes and one which, for Crystal Palace fans would match or exceed on the January 2005 window in terms of dissatisfaction.
The summer promised much. From Steve Parish tweeting that the club had 84 days to plan how to break into the top 10 and the search for a new manager. Six weeks yielded Frank De Boer – who was a free agent – and promise of a footballing evolution.
Palace fans had been here before; before him Alan Pardew, Ian Holloway, George Burley and Peter Taylor had all promised this kind of football yet all ultimately (some after a few ups) failed to deliver. It felt different with De Boer; a top drawer player in his day and a manager with four consecutive league titles to his name.
But the evolution has not materialised and De Boer took the club straight into the revolution. A change in formation, a change in playing style – both from the outside looking like progressive moves. However, this encountered two problems and these multiplied as they clashed: the Manager using players out of position to fit his new formation and the club not spending to add players suitable to De Boer’s chosen style.
Going into the closing days of the transfer window, with the club goalless and pointless, there was hope that having only signed one long term player in the summer, the manager would be backed. Steve Parish spoke in the week about three coming in. Even on Deadline Day itself he told the Croydon Advertiser:
“We're expecting two or three to come in. Maybe a striker, maybe a defender and maybe someone else, we'll see, I need to go and work on it. Eighty per cent, barring disasters, we should be all right.”
It transpires that there was a disaster; only one of those three players arrived and while Mamadou Sakho has shown he can be a key player for us, Palace are left with an imbalanced squad containing just two goalkeepers (with question marks over their suitability for the Premier League) and just one striker (with due respect to Freddie Ladapo).
The reaction from Palace fans has been predictable yet is largely justified. Questions about strategy in terms of manager and player recruitment, finances for transfers, the role of the American investors and of the chairman himself have been asked and perhaps for the first time since CPFC2010’s takeover, requiring answers on some of the above is justified.
The club has a hiding place behind STCC (Short Term Costs Control, ultimately only being able to increase the wage budget by £7 million) but we are in a position where a long-term injury to Christian Benteke would, without exaggeration, be season ending for the team and we are in that position not because of STCC but because of years of poor planning, a mismatched recruitment process and spending on players who have contributed little.
Unity among the club, owners, manager and fans is what has seen Palace through difficult times; administration, relegation fights, promotion pushes. However, we are at a place just three games into De Boer’s tenure where there seems to be a disconnect between him and the Board and between him and the players. A consequence of this has meant the fans are asking questions of Board.
It is hard to see within the current climate where the Palace survival spirit will come from; it certainly will not come while the players the manager has at his disposal due to a lack of spend do not buy into what he is doing. It will not come while the manager ignores the suitability of his players to a different formation. And it will not come while a growing section of the fan-base is starting to doubt the motives of the Board.
The summer promised so much despite the time it took to appoint De Boer. What has manifested is chaos caused by misalignment at every possible level. Three games in, a shambolic transfer window and doubts over the manager’s future is a stretch even for the Palace rollercoaster; survival in the top flight this season would be typically Palace in many ways.
However, it is difficult to shake the feeling that after Tony Pulis’ great escape, Alan Pardew’s flamboyant and then stuttered survivals followed by Sam Allardyce redeeming Palace last season, our luck could be about to run out. It would be hard to argue against it being of our own making.