Naveed Khan takes a look at why there's a sense of apathy about the club.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, when the year 2020 seemed so far away that things like flying to work rather than driving would be a real thing, the idea of mobile phones which allowed video transmission seemed farfetched, one thing which did not appear on the radar was that on 1 January 2020, Crystal Palace would be 9th in the Premier League in their seventh successive season in the top flight and their greatest ever player would be approaching his tenth season with the club.
Yet, here we are. While small planes have not replaced cars as a regular choice for commuters, FaceTime is an oft use medium of communication and Palace are in their most successful period in the last 115 years. So, why does it not feel like it?
Throughout 2019, Palace picked up more points than Spurs and Arsenal. The end to last season saw the greatest points return for Palace since the Premier League began. Yet while there is a sense of appreciation of Roy Hodgson and the job that he is doing, there are also growing expressions of frustration as to how the points have been picked up.
The team has achieved 28 points from 21 games – and while the value of those points may not be the same as in previous seasons as the teams around the relegation zone have more points than typical for this time of the season, the indications are that Hodgson will see the team stay up again come the end of the season.
There is a growing sense of apathy around; few calls for change of manager but more calls for a change of approach from this manager. Following the 1-1 draw against Norwich, there was praise for the manager seeing his injury hit squad picking up five points from three games in seven days. There were critics who pointed out that the point was achieved essentially because Hodgson tried something different and gave a debut to Brandon Pierrick.
Some fans point to one defeat in seven games while others talk about three wins in 13. Even a section of those who strongly back the manager do so because of the fear of who follows him and what comes next. The impact of Frank de Boer’s tenure still felt by many.
No fan has the right to tell another fan how to feel – within this situation of people backing Hodgson, those wanting him to be a bit bolder and a tiny portion wanting a managerial change, each fan has the right to hold the opinion he or she holds. And each has merit. But what is undeniable is that the club’s position and on field progress over the last few years has not been met by the unanimous enthusiasm that would have been assumed before we embarked on this journey.
Part of that is perhaps down to the calm nature of the manager, the consistency he has in approach and tactics as well as the workmanlike player he seems to favour. While not for one second wanting a return to Alan Pardew, a bit of maverick behaviour and the ball being put at risk is craved by some.
There is no Palace Rollercoaster, it is a steady ride and that in itself does not provoke the same emotional reaction. The absence of a typical Palace being felt by some.
The job Hodgson has done has also meant that the desperation for points does not exist. Points have been won early in the season, meaning we are not clinging on to every point as if there may be a long wait until the next. That in itself means there is no unified euphoria with a win or away draw. Apathy is the natural follow-on from this.
The combination of the club’s failures in recruitment and the manager’s hesitance to use some of the creative players recruited has also played a part. The recruitment has meant the manager has few options in wide/forward areas and full-back.
To compound this, Hodgson has a preference for three defensive minded midfielders starting as opposed to making room centrally for one of Max Meyer or Victor Camarasa. Thus, where that has been a signing which the fanbase has been excited about, those players have either been misused or unused. It leads to thoughts of wondering whether a different manager would get any less out of the squad but while getting more out of the creative players which are within it.
As things stand, there is no reason for the manager to be replaced or that even being on the radar. We are in a place which is unfamiliar to most Palace fans – a manager secure in a job, the team secure in a division. But football is a sport which thrives on the emotions of fans.
With such stability, emotions naturally need to be found from elsewhere, be it excited performances (of which there have been very few) or new players (of which there have few). For the apathy to disappear and for fans to be engaged as a whole in a way expected when in the middle of the club’s most successful spell, we need the club to back the manager with the signings he needs in the January window. Fresh blood can reinvigorate the fans – once signed, it will be down to the manager to use them.