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The Crystal Palace problem

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Roar Rookie
6th June, 2021

This European summer appears to be one of major overhauls for many clubs. The off-season has only just begun for clubs and yet manager changes are in full swing already.

One club that desperately needs to fill the empty seat in the dugout is Crystal Palace. The departure of Roy Hodgson was suspected for months and confirmed as the season came to a close.

Not simply tasked with finding a new manager, Palace sporting director Dougie Freedman also has the dreaded task of trying to rebuild a squad decimated by average signings and expensive underachievers.

Palace submitted a released list this week of 22 players to the Premier League. While that may include youngsters who are deemed not to have made the grade, it also includes a large number of first-team players and senior squad players.

Ex-PSG and Liverpool player Mamadou Sakho, Dutch international Patrick van Aanholt, Gary Cahill, Andros Townsend, Nathaniel Clyne and long-term club servants such as Joel Ward, Connor Wickham, James McCarthy and Scott Dann are all on the list.

Not all of these players will leave, but unless they are willing to accept new contracts at a reduced wage, they will not return to south London.

Football generic

(Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

While many of these players failed to deliver on skill sets they once had (Townsend only scored once in 34 games this season) or came in to simply do a job as a squad player (Cahill is now 35 years old), it leaves a very small list of players going into the next season as confirmed first team players.

Christian Benteke had his best season in a Palace shirt since 2016-17, scoring ten goals, but it is hardly inspiring stuff. Their brightest youngster, England under-21 star Eberechi Eze, recently injured his Achilles, putting him out until 2022.


Wilfried Zaha has gone into usual summer business, demanding a move to another club, but with a contact for another two years and Palace chairman Steve Parish usually demanding an outrageous fee, the likelihood of Zaha moving is low.

Palace are not big spenders traditionally, with the majority of their transfers being free signings or bargain buys over the past three seasons. Competition for high quality free transfers will be hotly contested by those needing to fill out their squads and Palace won’t be the only Premier League option for decent free-market players.

More of an issue though is how do you build a squad without a manager? Latest reports have Nuno Espirito Santo linked to the job, but he is also linked to the Everton job, which is probably more appealing. Eddie Howe has also been linked after a move to Celtic collapsed. However both want to bring in large backroom teams, something Parish and Freedman are not keen on.

Former England youth coach and Swansea boss Steve Cooper has been linked and may be interested, given Swansea missed out on promotion to Brentford in the EPL play-offs.

Cooper generally plays progressive, possession-based football and would be a smart appointment. His ability to develop youth (Palace’s under-18 squad came second in the EPL Under-18 South League) and work with a limited budget would make him an ideal appointment.


Valerien Ismael, once a Palace player, would be a daring appointment after a brilliant season with Barnsley, but his aggressive football, operating with a back three and wing backs, would require significant investment into the squad.

Palace are unlikely to make such a left-field appointment, even if he would bring a brilliant style of aggressive, high-tempo football to Selhurst Park.

Howe has been on Parish’s radar for years, but a lack of successful recruiting and no proven ability to develop younger players may count against him when such a rebuilding project faces the new manager. Other names such as Frank Lampard, Chris Wilder and Sam Allardyce have been linked, each presenting Parish with similar questions about who to turn too.

The off-season will be tough for Palace and Steve Parish must pick a manager quickly and intelligently, and begin the process the squad building, otherwise Palace’s Premier League journey may not last much longer.