Julian Chenery makes his FYP debut with a piece looking at where the club currently lies and what it will have to do to make a real success of Premier League football.
A few years ago, I pontificated on what would happen to the Premier League if every club had a mega-rich owner.
I suggested that Palace were on the verge of being left behind and that if rival clubs in our section of the league overtook us in terms of infrastructure, revenues and in turn their ability to purchase better quality players, there would be a ceiling above which we could not rise, which would thus shorten the odds on relegation.
In recent years, the Premier League has split into a Top 6 and Bottom 14. I would suggest it has now fractured again into four groups: Top 6, “Aspiring Affluent” clubs, Mid-table and Bottom 3.
The Top 6 remain as Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. Clubs with high revenues, (mainly) excellent new facilities, indulgent and rich owners, and a global fan base to help churn even more money into the coffers.
The aspiring clubs consist of Wolves and Leicester – both of whom have the ability to break into the Top 6 – and they are now joined by the deep-pocketed and highly ambitious Everton.
In effect, that is nine clubs above us who at present we cannot reach. Europe is but a distant dream.
Then there is the Mid-table. These are clubs who on balance are not only similar to Palace – but more importantly who are our near rivals and whom we should look to take points from every time. These are Newcastle United, Aston Villa, Southampton, Brighton & Hove Albion, Leeds United, Sheffield United, West Ham and Burnley.
In terms of the owners, infrastructure, coach, squad quality and cash, all these clubs have at least one of the necessary prerequisites for PL success.
The problem lies in that in realistic terms, the highest any of these teams can in currently reach is tenth.
Then there is the Bottom Three section. Everyone fights to avoid this but Fulham and West Brom are most likely to be two-thirds of it.
In recent years, Bournemouth, Watford, Norwich, Middlesbrough would be bottom 3 category clubs.
So far so good – but what if Newcastle did get taken over by the Saudi-funded ownership group? The likelihood is that they would quickly burst from the Mid-table to the Aspiring Affluents leaving the highest realistically achievable place available for others as eleventh.
And what if two other clubs also gained new ambitious and well-funded owners? Southampton are for sale and already have a ‘decent’ ground and catchment area. Leeds have the fans and coach. Villa too have the fans, a great stadium, a rich owner and are jealously eyeing their Black Country neighbours Wolves.
In the event that four clubs suddenly found themselves well-resourced and in turn were able to position a level at the top of Mid-table, this would mean that the highest place Palace could finish would be fourteenth. In other words, from the start of the season we would be in a relegation fight to be one of three teams that avoids the proverbial plughole.
This is where we are today. A solid Mid-table side waving goodbye to Everton who seem to have found a recipe to join the Aspiring Affluents.
I contend that if we do not plan now to break into the AA’s, we will quickly be sucked into the mire of relegation.
Ambition in terms of a new stadium, fan revenues, the quality of the new coach (whenever Roy Hodgson leaves) and the quality of players recruited are an essential part of that.
In points terms, Palace should be looking at winning home and away against Fulham and West Brom and taking four from six against our actual rivals in the other eight Mid-tablers. That gains us a further thirty-two – a total of forty-four points. Safety.
Assuming we can expect only the odd surprise result against the Top Sixers, it’s what we achieve against the three Affluents that will mark the relative success of the season in terms of where we finish.
I don’t advocate splashing the cash recklessly, more ensuring that our goal is to break into the Ambitious Affluents rather than try to tread water in Mid-tableland.
The club have made a great start with real progress on the new Academy giving us the ability to attract top talent from our South London catchment area. The redevelopment of the stadium is vital to improving the match day revenues and fan experience. The hunt for a quality replacement to Hodgson will be important when we try to lure quality talent to SE25 – (just see how Everton managed to sign James Rodríguez because he had worked with Carlo Ancelotti). And of course, the ability to replace and retain top quality players as part of our squad is the key part in maintaining on-field success.
It’s vital Palace look up to break into the three-team section above us – it is the only way we can genuinely hope to reach the Europa level, and it’s vital that we start to do this now.
Against a post-Covid fall in the value of TV rights (and therefore revenues) which in turn will affect player values and wages, this is a tricky juggling act. Staying up is everything!
How we achieve this and when we achieve this is the true Crystal Palace Five Year Plan.