Is there ever a straight forward time being a Palace fan? No.
Pre-season is underway, and how much would we all love to just see a nice smooth pre-season, with a decent squad rebuild that sets us up for a good, strong Premier League campaign? Thankfully, that is exactly how this summer is shaping up, am I right? No, the answer is no, I'm not right, at least not so far!!
Ok, let me add some sensible perspective. The world is not ending, the transfer window is still open and our boys have only been back in training for 18 days. Some reactions I have seen, have been beyond ridiculous. I was hoping that the veil of negativity that fell over our fanbase last season, would have been lifted and we would see the back of the garbage comments and abuse that plagued the previous nine months. Sadly, it would seem to not be the case. Our first friendly, the penalty win over Luzern, was ripped apart before the last ball was even kicked. I saw Roy criticised, the players criticised, relegation guaranteed and even the comment 'this is our worst transfer window ever', despite the fact at the time it wasn't due to close for a month!! Things did not improve after our 2-0 loss to Young Boys, and of course, the recent 6-2 loss at Barnet has really fired up the naysayers! The problem is, as always, people aren't looking at the details, and are instead jumping the gun on the negativity, when at times it isn't always warranted. Look at our time in Switzerland. We took seven players from our Under 23s. AWB was absent having been sold. Zaha, Kouyate and Ayew(if he does sign) were absent due to the AFCON, while Sakho and Tomkins are still yet to recover from last season's injuries. Add to that, we had released Puncheon and Sako, while Michy returned to Chelsea after his loan, our squad was heavily depleted. On top of it all. both teams were three weeks ahead of us in preparations, with Luzern readying for the Europa League, while Young Boys are a Champions League team. As for the Barnet game, it was our Under 23s, with the additions of Riedewald, Wickham, Sorloth and Henderson. Of those four, Jairo never plays and really needs to leave, Sorloth clearly is not good enough for this level and Henderson is here to be third choice. Wickham is the only player likely to really be involved in the first team, and that is if injuries permit it. So, in regards to the friendly matches so far, people need to calm down, take a moment and realise that it isn't quite as bad as they initially thought.
HOWEVER. With 22 days left of the transfer window(as of writing this), we are facing a crucial period that could very well define our season. Last season, we finished 12th and matched our highest ever points tally of 49. We also avoided dropping into the bottom three all season(albeit by the skin of our teeth at times), so it would be easy to say that not much new blood is required. Sadly, I would have to disagree with that. This is going to be our seventh successive season in the Premier League. While I am aware that everyone below the top seven is always looking over their shoulder at the relegation threat, there needs to come a time when we look up, instead of down. Watford, as much as I hate to say it, manage this every season. They are never really in the dogfight, they are on the outskirts of it at most. We need to be looking to do this. After six consecutive seasons of being in a relegation battle, we need to kick on. We need to finally get ourselves a top ten finish. We need to be looking for some form of cup success. The problem is, we seem to be our own worst enemy when it comes to progression. Our board have relied heavily on the basis that what we have is enough, and will keep us afloat. The problem is, what we have is what gets us into the mess that we often find ourselves having to get out of. For all the success that our squad has found at times, it has equally struggled far too often. We are always in the relegation fight, we have a terrible home record, we have no cup success bar one fantastic run to the final. If we want to progress, then surely something needs to change?
One issue with our squad, is that it lacks
quality in depth. Year on year, the Premier League improves, and we have to improve
with it. Year on year any club should be looking to enhance the quality of its
squad. Some of this is done organically, with the players you already have,
getting better with games, experience and training. The other way, is you identify the key areas
that need improving, and you bring in players that are better than what you
already have as an option. Now granted, it's never as easy as it sounds, but
this is still the case. Over the years, our first 11 has improved, no doubt
about it. The problem has been, that the quality level of our reinforcements
has been someway short of the starting players they would be replacing. How
many times have people looked at our bench, and not seen anything that will
improve on what we have playing? It's been far too many times for me. We pick
up injuries, and we end up weakening the team with replacements. We also fail
to provide competition for places, which in turn softens players as they relax
too much. It also means that if you need to take someone out of the pressure
cooker for a game or two, you can't. Just look at Benteke. In his second season,
when things started to go wrong, the goals dried up, the chances were missed
and the fans were getting frustrated, he needed to take a step back. He needed
a game or two on the bench so someone else could shoulder the responsibility
and he could refresh. We had no one else, so he just got left to sink deeper
and deeper into a hole. Quality in depth, it is a must, and we just don't have
The second issue with our squad, is that it is ageing. All three keepers are above 30, with Wayne and Vicente being 32 and Henderson 31. In defence, Sakho, Kelly and Ward are 29, Tomkins is 30, Dann is 32 and PVA is 28. In Midfield, Jimmy Mac is 31, Kouyate is 29, Luka is 28, Schlupp is 26 and Meyer is 23(hooray!). With our attackers, Benteke and Townsend are 28, Wilf and Connor are 26, and Sorloth is 23. There is a core of our squad that is over 30, or borderline 30. I am not saying that 30 is the end of life(hell I turn 36 next month so I hope not), but in football you don't want a large core of your squad in that bracket. The problem is, you run the risk of losing a large portion of the squad at the same time. A big example of this kind of thing happening, is in the cricket. Our test squad at one point was fantastic, from top to bottom. It won three ashes series in a row, including a dominant win in Australia, which never happens. The problem was, they all reached peak at the same time, they then all slumped and aged out at the same time. It left us needing to replace not just one or two players, but a large chunk of the team. This is the issue Palace could face. I mean, look at our centre backs. All of them are 28 upwards, with no sign of youth readying to replace them. I hope that Sam Woods can be that player, but we can't just leave it and hope. We should be looking to move Dann on, and be bringing in someone around 24 years old, a player we can build with. The problem is, are we doing that?
For years now, our squad has needed a lot of work. While some have said we only need a couple of players, for me, every window has needed an unrealistic ten players. I say unrealistic, because it could never happen, but in reality we needed a couple of windows where say six recruits came in, and the squad depth was reshaped. It has never happened. Money, I would imagine, has played a big part in that. Sadly though, I also fear that our organisation when it comes to transfers does not help either. I remember years ago, it became a thing to joke about Bob Dowie 'not being able to get the body over the line', because that was wheeled out every time we failed to sign players. With the departure of Simon Jordan and his regime, I had hoped it would change. Yet, if you ask a lot of fans now, they would tell you that we are awful at managing transfer windows. A lot of fans do not have faith in our board and scouting network, to either find decent players, or be able to sign them. Now, that is partially just born out of frustration, and perhaps a lack of understanding. Sadly though, it is also because far too many times, it appears to be true. One of the reasons we have little cash to spend, is because we have wasted transfer fees and wages on too many dud players, who aren't good enough to play, and aren't good enough to sell. We end up stuck with them being no benefit to the playing effort, and just draining our financial resources until they eventually leave, having provided no monetary return at all. Jordan Mutch and Jimmy Kebe are the first two players that spring to mind here, and I fear Jairo Riedewald is going the same way.
If it isn't duds, it is just signing no one. A few seasons ago, our board allowed us to go into a season with no left back, which is just criminal. We then signed one in the January in Pape Souare, but one player for a position is not enough. The following summer we failed to sign a second left back, and the moment the window shut, Pape had his crash and we had no left back again. Making such an error once is bad, to do it twice is shameful. The same has happened up front. In Roy's first season, he only had Benteke as a striker available. He needed another, highlighted more so when Benteke got injured. In the January, we overpaid for Sorloth, a lad unproven at this level with a half a decent season to boast about. It was poor business and left Roy with still one player. I must also mention, in that window we signed another dud in Jaroslaw Jach, and that bizarre loan of Erdal Rakip. Between the two of them, for the money spent, they played zero minutes of first team football! Back to strikers though, and in the summer, we signed, let's be honest, none. Yes Ayew came in, but he is not a striker, not in any way, shape or form. For the second season running, we went into the season with one available striker, and then wondered why we couldn't score goals. Come January, we were desperate to see one arrive. It nearly happened instantly, in the form of Dominic Solanke. Injury saw that cancelled, which was a wise decision. However, it was clear there was no replacement lined up. We would have come out of that window without a striker AGAIN, had it not been for the deadline day joy of Michy Batshuayi. Even then, that was not because of a master stroke of our board. That happened, because last minute Chelsea needed rid of him and offered us a cut price deal. Just like with the left back scenario, it is criminal that we keep making these same mistakes.
Now, some will argue that last summer, a striker aside, was decent. Kouyate for £10m and Meyer for free was good business. Well, I totally agree on that front, to an extent. They were both good business, as was Tomkins for £12m, as well as PVA, Schlupp and Luka. We have done some good bits of business. Hell, the fact that we have made signings like Cabaye, Sakho and Benteke is incredible for us, given it used to be players like Wayne Andrews and Calvin Andrew that we were signing. The problem is, we have tried to do the bare minimum to survive, and at times it has barely worked. Getting Kouyate and Meyer last summer was great, the problem was, they simply replaced the outgoing Cabaye and RLC, while Ayew replaced Sako. We already needed new players before those departures, so we never actually improved the squad, or provided Roy with more options. I hate to say it, because I like the guy, but Steve Parish(and co) have ridden their luck a lot. They have been complacent, and expected everyone to just accept it.
Now this window, a huge job is required. Speroni, Sako, Puncheon, they all left on free transfers. So, for me,we already needed a new left back, because PVA's struggles last season showed he needs competition to push him. We needed at least one wide player, because just Wilf and Andros is not enough. This would become two, if Wilf leaves. We still needed that number 10, the player who can unlock the door and solve our struggles at him. We also needed two strikers, because that department is just woeful currently. Since then, AWB has been sold, meaning we need another right back, and the injuries to Sakho and Tomkins mean, in my opinion, another centre back is required. There are all these gaps where quality is needed to push us forward, and so far we have signed Stephen Henderson, a keeper not good enough to make the Nottingham Forest team. Now, don't get me wrong, Roy and his coaches clearly wanted an experienced third choice keeper, so Henderson was a cheap way to do that. However, you can see why fans are so frustrated. In fact, I think Roy is massively frustrated too. Now, I know we shouldn't look at other clubs, but inevitably as fans, we do. In doing so, we can see that Leicester have spent £70m on Tielemans and Perez. Southampton have made Ings permanent for £20m, and signed Che Adams for £15m(a player I felt we should have been after). West Ham sold Arnautovic AFTER we sold AWB, and have replaced him before we have signed anyone. Yes, I am aware that we will bargain hunt in the last few weeks as always, but this is how people get so mad, because other clubs get business done, and we tread water.
Don't get me wrong, I don't want us spending £70m on two players. We have tried the big money spending on Benteke and Sakho. With Benteke, despite a good first season, it has been a terrible waste of money. With Sakho, he has improved our team completely, and has generally been value for money, but the guy can't stay fit. The massive outlays on transfer fees, and wages, have crippled us and stopped further business. So, I would rather the money was spread on a few players of better value, players hungry to play. If this takes a bit of time to get it right, then so be it. What worries me, is that we will take our time, then get it wrong anyway, as happens too often.
The person I feel really sorry for, is Roy. His
predecessors have been backed, and wasted it. He, despite some people
criticising him, has been a God send for this club, and has been given very
little. If Roy wasn't about to retire, he would probably have followed suit of
Allardyce and Pulis, and got the hell out of here by now. He has been asked to
achieve, but not really given the tools to do so. Now, I just hope that this
summer proves to be that turning point.
Why am I writing this? It isn't time for panic stations yet, so why am I putting out this piece? Well, it is because yesterday, reality set in for me. As it stands, our squad is smaller and weaker than what ended last season, given that Sako, Ayew and Michy have all left. Sakho and Tomkins are still recovering from injury. This means it is likely they won't get much game time, and therefore won't be ready to start the season. Wilf could still leave. If he doesn't, then due to AFCON, both he and Kouyate, as well as Ayew if he signs, likely won't be ready to start the season either. That is a lot of players to be without, for a squad that doesn't have much depth. On top of all that, Luka's contract expires in a year!! Roy needs reinforcements, and ideally he needs them with time to settle them in. Last minute deals may be cheap, but they are more players who will be playing catch up in regards to preseason and bedding in with the team. The last thing we want is another slow start to the season.
There have been players linked, and murmurs of possible business happening. Let's hope it does, because for once, wouldn't it be lovely to have a nice comfortable season? We can but dream.