So, given recent events and results, I find myself tackling a subject that, quite frankly, I can't believe is even a discussion in November. The topic is one that divides opinion, and no doubt will do once more as these words type out onto the page.
Some will agree with me, some won't, and some will no doubt have mixed feelings; that of course, is how football opinions should be. With that said, what is this divisive topic? Well, that would be the one and only Roy Hodgson.
So why has good old Roy become a topic of discussion? The reason, is because some of our fans want to see him out the door. There is a growing discontent among some with his tactics, substitutions or lack thereof, and a general overall stubbornness. We are struggling in the league currently, and it would seem that for some, the blame lies firmly at Roy's door. Am I one of those people? Absolutely not. This will frustrate some, I have no doubt, and they are probably cursing at the computer screen right now, possibly even contemplating shutting the article. I get that, I am aware that my opinion, which is all it is, is not popular with all. Hell, some of my colleagues at Back of the Nest whole heartedly disagree with me, and want Roy out. This article is not a case of me trying to say that I am right and they are wrong, far from it. This article is simply me sharing my view of the situation, trying to provide one perspective, on what is currently a big question mark over our season.
With that introduction out of the way, let me start with a line that is more personal emotion than constructive view, simply because I feel I am entitled to one outburst, right? Well here it goes. People calling for Roy to resign right now, is simply ridiculous! There we go, I said it. That is my very simplistic opinion, because I feel it is madness to be making such a demand at this time. With that now said, let me now move on to constructively explaining why I feel that way.
Before Frank De Boer was appointed last summer, we were briefly linked with Roy, and the thought to me, was horrifying. All I could think of was that England versus Iceland game and I felt that it would be a backwards step, not a progressive one. Then, when Frank was rightly given the early boot and Roy was touted as his replacement, I was in agreement with it. What had changed to make me think differently? In regards to Roy, nothing really. I think the mess of the FDB months was so horrific that we felt a lost cause, and so anything was better than nothing. Roy though, won me over quite quickly. Sure, his first couple of games saw us lose at home to Southampton and then concede 9 in two games in Manchester, but while standing at Old Trafford taking the only joy from the day being Freddie Ladapo coming on, I noticed something. Despite being 4-0 down and the game being effectively over, we never stopped trying. Right up until the final whistle, those players kept on going, despite the lost cause. This became something that for me, is obvious in our games under Roy. Sure, at times we just aren't at the races, but generally, we keep on going, keep on fighting, even when it looks over. Roy set us up to be tough, to be mean, to be resilient. We weren't always great, but he made us a tough nut to crack. His work on the training ground and on the sidelines saw us barely lose a game to teams outside the top seven.
Roy took us from rock bottom, to an 11th placed finish. Hell, we only missed out on 10th by goal difference. We spoilt the Man City party by preventing them from setting the consecutive wins record. We beat our old enemy in Brighton in front of our own fans, and we ended the season six unbeaten, with four wins and two draws. Personally, in those final games, we played the best football I have ever seen a Palace team play, it was simply sublime. He did all of this, despite a crippling injury crisis that more than once threatened to derail our revival. Roy was hailed a hero, rightly so, and everyone was buoyant for us to kick on under his guidance, living in the hope of finally having a 'comfortable' season. However, fast forward six months and now Roy is the villain of the peace in some quarters. So why has it changed? Why has his crown fallen?
The general, constructive points that get made, are that people feel he is too stubborn to change his system, too loyal to players not deserving of it, and too slow or inactive with substitutions. Now some of this, I can totally understand. There have been moments, like the Wolves game as one example, where I was scratching my head as to why Meyer did not start. There have been moments where I am frustrated because we desperately need a sub, and one isn't forthcoming. There are also times where it feels like we don't really have a Plan B. So, I do get where some of the frustrations towards him are coming from, and Roy is certainly by no means perfect. Unfortunately, there are also those who have taken to personal insults against Roy. There are also some who bring up the 'this is Roy at England' line, a line which funnily enough, they wouldn't even contemplate a few months ago when all was rosy. While I can understand the frustrations, and I can hold my hands up and say that Roy isn't totally innocent in all this, what I do stand my ground on is that the blame for our current predicament is not on Roy.
One of the biggest reasons I believe this, is because our squad is a problem, and that comes from above Roy's head. Roy inherited a squad that had one fit striker in Benteke, who spent the season totally out of form. He only had two wingers in Wilf and Townsend. There was no real replacement for Luka should he get injured, and only Sakho and Tomkins as top Centre backs. Dann simply hasn't been good enough for a year or so before his injury, and then of course he got that injury, and while Kelly will always give you everything, he isn't a top quality Premier League Centre back. When last January came along, we all believed Roy would get the reinforcements he so badly needed, and had earned, just like his predecessors had. Pulis came in and in January he was given Hennessey(who clearly boosted Jules' performances with competition), Ledley, Dann and Ince. Those signings gave us that extra quality needed to survive that season. Pardew came in and got Soaure(to solve our left back issue), Mutch, Wilf made permanent, Lee Chung-Yong, Ameobi, and Sanogo. Sure, in the long run we know how badly a lot of those turned out, but at that time, he was backed and given active reinforcements. When Sam came in, he was given Sakho, Luka, PVA and Schlupp, all of which helped get the job done for a £40m outlay. They were all backed, all given the tools to help survive. Roy inherited a bigger mess, coupled with a growing injury crisis, and what was he given? Jach, a player clearly signed as a possible long term option, Rakip, a player that seemed to be a deal which I still feel had a hidden agenda, and Sorloth. Two of those never played because clearly, they weren't up to this level. The other got a few appearances, but again was having to take a big step up in level. Roy needed players for the fight happening there and then, and realistically, he got none.
So having achieved survival, having reached our joint second highest finish, I think we all thought Roy would be backed in the summer, especially in the striker department. The squad needed it, and the man honestly deserved it. Pardew had it, in the shape of players like Cabaye, Sako, Townsend, Benteke, Tomkins, so Roy would surely get the same right? No. On paper, it looked like he did. With Meyer, Kouyate, Ayew and Guaita coming in, fans could have been mistaken for feeling that Roy was backed. The reality though, is that he wasn't. The success of our team under him was built partially on a four man midfield, full of central midfielders. Two of those players were Cabaye and RLC. Cabaye sat in the hole, breaking up play, giving Luka freedom to get on with his game. Some were glad to see Cabaye go, but his work rate was exceptional, and he was quietly very effective, hence he had the highest number of interceptions last season. RLC had pace, strength and skill which enhanced both Wilf and Andros, and gave us an extra dynamic to our game as the opposition simply had no idea how to deal with all three of those players at one time. Both of those players left in the summer, and in my opinion, neither have been replaced. Sure, Kouyate is improving with games, and there are moments where Meyer looks like he could be a real talent, but for me, we replaced the numbers, not the specific quality we were losing. Ayew, effectively, has just taken the spot of Sako. Neither really an out and out winger or striker. Some will scream at me now, saying Sako was much better as he scored goals. That, of course, is true. But in reality he had a four month decent spell last season, but for most of the time over three years, never justified the heavy wages he would have been paid. Did we get another proper striker? No. Did we get a centre back to strengthen that area? No. Have we added an extra winger for competition and depth? No. We needed to keep what we had, and add quality of depth to it. Instead, an already short of quality squad lost assets, and merely replaced them with other bodies, nothing more.
How is Roy expected to kick us on, when he hasn't been given the tools to do so? How can we expect an advancement on last season, when instead of increasing our depth and assets, we have decreased them? There needs to be a progression, both on and off the pitch, and that simply hasn't happened. This, I believe, is one of the reasons for Roy's hesitance with subs. We saw it last season too, in fact, there were games where we looked dead on our feet, yet Roy never made a sub. Why? Well, only he will know the true reason, but my belief is that our bench just wasn't good enough. I think he often looked at our subs and did not see one player that he felt would improve our performance, or had the faith in to see out the job. Sure, you could argue that fresh legs are better than tired legs, but is it really the case if those fresh legs still aren't up to the challenge required of them? In a lot of those games last season, if I am honest, I looked at the bench and thought the same thing. Every game, my mates and I have that discussion of how we would change it, who should come off and who should replace them. Far too many times last season, the lack of quality on our bench meant we sat there saying we need a change, but there is nothing on the bench capable of bringing it. That, after five years in the Premier League, just isn't acceptable. Now, this season, I am once again starting to have that same feeling. Our bench seems to be getting weaker by the game. In fact, for the last couple of matches, the changes have picked themselves, in the form of Sorloth and Meyer, or Sorloth and Schlupp. Other than those players, there just hasn't been anything else that is game changing. I like Jairo, but I just don't think he has the confidence to help build his talent in this league, while Puncheon is simply not up to this level any more. I look at the bench that visiting teams bring, and it always seems to have game changers on it, players who can enhance their performance, be it offensively or defensively. We just don't have that, because, as mentioned, we just haven't added the depth. How different would it be, if along with the signings we made, we had kept Sako, RLC and Cabaye? Now, I am aware that Sako and Cabaye chose to not stay, but for just a moment, imagine if those three were on the bench as options. Imagine if they were playing, giving us the likes of Jimmy, or Kouyate as options. If Roy had some depth in quality to play with, I think he would use it, and we would be better off for it. Sadly though, he doesn't.
However, despite our lack of depth, we have still had the chances to get more points. This is another factor as to why I believe the blame should not lay at Roy's door. I have heard fans moaning about his negative play, about how his tactics are the reason we aren't scoring and getting points. Seriously? Have people been watching the games? Sure, there are times where we aren't exactly free flowing, but we have had so many chances to get goals and points, yet failed to take them. The Liverpool game, it took a dodgy penalty decision to get ahead of us, which meant they could catch us on the break second half as we had to push forward. If that penalty hadn't been given, I believe we would have earned a draw. At Watford, we could have been 3-0 up at half time and they should have been down to ten men. The ref though was a coward, and both Jimmy and Benteke failed to take their chances. Second half, Joel Ward should have grabbed a point, and missed. We had chances against Southampton, and through misfortune and bad finishing, we did not take them. Against Newcastle, Sakho had to score and that would have been three points. He missed. Against Everton, at 0-0, Luka had the perfect chance to put us one up with a penalty, and he missed. Against Spurs, Tomkins had a perfect chance with a back post header, and missed. Sorloth then had the chance of glory at the end, and missed. Is Roy really to blame for these bad misses? There are some, sadly, who would try and argue yes. According to one person I have read comments from, Roy is making them into bad players. I mean, come on, really? As professionals at this level, they have to be taking their chances, and they just simply aren't. Is that Roy's fault? Of course it isn't. Roy didn't make Luka miss the penalty, he didn't make Sakho head wide. The players have made those mistakes, and therefore have to take some responsibility for it. It's not just up front as well. At Bournemouth, was Roy to blame for Sorloth giving away a needless free kick, or Sakho then giving away a stupid penalty from that free kick? No, he wasn't. Against Spurs, was Roy to blame for Ayew being too lazy to header the ball clear? Of course not. These are errors the players are making, errors that if not made, would have seen us put a lot more points on the board. Roy hasn't made these errors, he hasn't caused these errors, but he is certainly suffering the consequences of them.
There is one point that I have seen made, that I do find hard to ignore, and that is the Steven Reid factor. Steven was always very involved on the sideline in games, and our improvement certainly came along with his arrival, and his absence seems to coincide with our struggles. Now, I have heard a piece of information, that Reid's training methods were said to be the cause of our injury struggles last season, which is the reason behind his departure. How true that is, It's impossible to say, although the source did provide the information of Benteke's knee surgery days before it was made public. However, I do believe that Steven has been a big loss to the club, and it might well be playing a small factor in our troubles.
We are certainly in trouble at the moment, that is something everyone can agree on. Is there one cause of it? Not in my opinion, I think several factors are playing a role in our struggles. Should the blame be placed all on Roy, and see him get pushed out the door? Hell no. Roy is 71 years old, he has had a very successful career that has taken him to several countries, both at club level and international level. He does not need the stress and grief that comes with being involved at Selhurst Park, yet he chooses to do it. He chooses to keep on fighting, because he still has the passion, and he cares. Tony Pulis took his ball and ran in the most selfish, greedy, back stabbing way, when he could have stayed and built something. Sam Allardyce pretended to retire so that he could walk away from us, instead of stay and build, most likely because he found out we had little money. Both of these men achieved survival, but did not have the guts to continue the job. Roy, unlike those cowards, has stayed. Despite the lack of funds, despite the lack of players, despite all this mess in the stands with the E400, HF and Singing Section, Roy at the age of 71, is still fighting on. For everything he has done for us so far, the man deserves better than the treatment he is starting to get from some quarters.
For me, he is still Roy of the Rovers, the time for Roy is not over. However, I do think Parish and the board need to be preparing for life after Roy, for when he retires. Don't leave it as a rush, don't go into that situation blind, get ready now.
Oh, and for those who may be wondering, my choice for who should replace Roy when he retires, or, if he did get sacked, is the same man: Sean Dyche. He is who we should have appointed instead of FDB, and he is the man that I think should be next in line to the Palace throne. For now though, all I ask is that you give Roy your support, give him the time he has earned, and I fully believe he won't let you down.