Where has it all gone wrong?
Let me start by apologising, because I know that in recent days, social media has been flooded with this type of article from various Palace fan groups. I would like to have avoided it, but it is such a major topic currently, it is impossible not to share my opinions and emotions on it too. The key in that, is emotions. That is why we are all finding the current situation so hard to take, because we love this club, it is a massive part of us, of who we are, and we can't stand to watch it get neglected. Unfortunately though, neglect is exactly what is going on at SE25 right now.
Now, before I go any further into the subject of our current struggles, let me at first say that while our situation isn't great, in the short term, it isn't quite as dire as the media paint it. It is amazing how quickly you can spin something, to suit your agenda. I listen to Talksport a lot in my car, and I hear it on there all the time. One week they will be waxing lyrical, or slating a team/player/manager, and then a few weeks later, they are putting the opposite spin on it. For example, when Pochettino was sacked and Mourinho was immediately appointed, it was like a Jose love in. They pretty much brushed all the work Poch had done under the carpet, and just praised and praised Mourinho, ignoring the fact that he is prone to a meltdown after a couple of years at a club. They could not speak highly enough about him. Then, as Spurs results quickly dropped off and they started struggling, Talksport started referencing the Mourinho flaws, and talking about how maybe it wasn't working. Then, Spurs beat City 2-0, and it was back to the love in and talk of a Mourinho master class. Forget that City missed a penalty, and a ton of chances from open play, dominated the game until they had a man sent off. Forget that Spurs were lucky, oh no, it was a Mourinho master class. Any City fan that rang in to say otherwise, got immediately shot down and criticised, and drowned on pro Mourinho propaganda. Another example, is Burnley. Up until a few weeks ago, they were getting criticised heavily. They were seen as real relegation candidates, and Sean Dyche was being slated for only ever playing 4-4-2 and not adapting. Then, they get a couple of results, and now they are safe, and labelled the team that always gets the results when needed. Opinions change like the wind, and you can easily switch the facts to serve your purpose.
Why am I mentioning these things? Because the same has happened with us in the media. All season long, we have not been mentioned in the relegation battle. Seriously, no one ever said our name when discussing who goes down. When it comes to Roy, the pundits always praise him for his defensive strengths, and say that he makes us tough to beat, and is a safe pair of hands. Even in October/November last year when we lost four in five against the top five in the league, we didn't get a mention. We made it through the Christmas period with hardly any players, and just one loss. When the full time whistle blew at the Etihad, confirming a 2-2 draw, we had lost just one game in ten, and were five unbeaten. Roll on two games, and losses at home to Southampton and Sheffield United, and suddenly that positive stat was switched to a negative one, of just three wins in eighteen. To really make that stat more negative, the pundits included that five game run against the top 5 teams in it, so that it looked a hell of a lot worse. Now, they are saying that Roy is too negative, and his style and set up doesn't bring goals. Many are also saying we are in real relegation trouble, yet we are only one point behind Burnley, who they now say are safe. If we were to win our next two games against Newcastle and Brighton, or even pick up four points from those, I guarantee they would go back to saying we are safe again. For now though, the damage is done. The pundits are negative, and it spread negativity among everyone. Yes, it is a mess currently, with plenty of issues which I am going to discuss. However, the magic safety mark is 40 points. We need to get 10 points from 12 games. Chances are, 36 or 37 would be enough, meaning a win and three draws, which under Roy, is very much achievable. If you look at the last three games, I believe Southampton was one game too far for the small handful of players who had had to play every minute of every game over Christmas due to our injury crisis, especially when they had just battled to a 2-2 draw at City four days previous. Not only that, but Southampton are now a team very much in form. The Sheffield United game, United literally did nothing until Guaita threw the ball into the net for them. They should have been down to ten men in the first half too, and while we did not create much, we did not deserve to lose, and wouldn't have, if it wasn't for that freak moment. As for Everton, since Ancelotti took over, they are second in the form table, and despite their struggles, still have a squad of players that has been assembled via spending around £200m minimum. In fact, what was spent on two of their players, in Richarlison and Pickford, was more than our entire starting eleven, possibly even our entire 18. So, yes there are a lot of issues, but, things aren't quite as doom and gloom in the short term, as perhaps some are constantly telling us.
BUT, and that is a big but, in the wider scheme of things, the club is in trouble long term, if changes are not made. We have the oldest squad, the oldest manager, a small ground, we don't score goals, we have stopped keeping clean sheets, and we seem to have no plan. There is a massive sense of frustration, disappointment and anger surrounding the club currently, and everyone is asking the same question; who is to blame? I have seen it broken down into Harris and Blitzer, Parish, or Roy as the choice for the role of villain. For me though, I see things slightly differently. I see the board as a whole, not as the individual players, and for me they are the main factor in the mess we are in, and our lack of future planning. Roy, for all the praise I often give him, has some blame, in terms of the on pitch struggles, but likewise, some of that portion of blame, also goes on the players. I also feel that as a fan base, we also have a little blame for the dark cloud over us, in terms of the general mood of the club. How? Let me explain.
I will start with the board. Now, when it comes to the board, the American's are the easy target. Many don't want to blame Parish, because he saved the club, and so it is easy to just dump all of this mess at the American's door. For me though, they are all to blame. Is it possible that Harris and Blitzer and causing problems, refusing to sign off on spending money, or wanting to sell but not doing it? Of course it is possible, and may very well be happening. Who though, brought them in? Who should have done due diligence on them, and seen exactly how they treat their franchises in America? The answer to that, is Steve Parish. Just to flip this around completely for one moment, and look at it from the American's perspective. When they invested in the club, we were fifth in the table. You would imagine that when Parish was selling the club to them(figuratively), he would have spoken about top half finishes, cup runs and possibly even European football. After all, you have to sell the dream right? The other big topic, was ground expansion. This we know they definitely discussed, because we were told that they put £100million aside, to build a new main stand. Nearly four years later, for their investment, they have seen two relegation battles, we haven't once finished top half, and the aside from a nice pamphlet and some pictures, the stand is seemingly no closer to having the building work begin. Effectively, they have been sold a lie. It is also believed that it was the American's who funded the Allardyce shopping spree, which shows that at least in the beginning, there was willing. This is why, I feel that both sides of the board are to blame, and not individually.
So as a board, how have they been failing this club? That is something we can all answer. The squad has had a decent starting eleven, but no quality in depth for years. It has also been unbalanced. You would have thought, that after the left back debacles of the Warnock/Pardew era, where we went into a season with just one(Souare), or none as was the case before Pape signed. Yet, the board haven't. We went into Roy's first season with only one available striker in Benteke, who surprise surprise, got injured. Bar the loan of Batshuayi, we have continued to fail to correct the failings of our striking department. We have no replacements for Wilf and Andros as creative wingers. We also went into the season with one right back, and one left back. Not only that, but the right back(Ward) had been second choice for the last 18 months, and the left back(PVA) has been struggling massively in the defensive side, and could really do with some competition to push him. Year after year, window after window, our squad has needed strengthening and adding to. It hasn't happened. The last time anything like that really happened, was in that Allardyce window. Even then, the left back need was there, because the board had neglected it for too long. We needed Luka, because Pardew had forced out Jedinak, and he hadn't been replaced. Dann was starting to age, and not quite keep up with the improving quality of the league, but we had not brought in someone to compete with him, hence Sakho's arrival. You could say that we had, in the form of Kelly, but our failures at full back pushed him out wide for too many years, holding back his central development.
After Big Sam departed, we brought in FDB, and spoke of a new change in ethic and mindset. We then gave him three players to do this with. Jairo, Fosu-Mensah and RLC. All young players, two of which we did not own, and had not structured a deal that included a purchase option. That meant that if the FDB project had worked, two elements of it would have been lost at the end of the season, which was a lack of long term planning. FDB didn't last, and Roy came in. By Christmas we had an injury crisis, and Roy desperately needed players. The solution provided by the board? Sorloth, Jach and Rakip. One player we overpaid for, who was not quite ready for this league yet, and two players who weren't even good enough for our reserves it would seem, and have shown little signs of success since. The following summer(2018), we saw RLC go back to Chelsea, Fosu-Mensah go back to United, Cabaye left on a three(meaning no recoup of any of the £10m spent), and Sako left on a free too, having spent most of his three years injured and earning big money. The squad had needed investment and improvement, BEFORE these players left. These departures only added to our need. We then signed Ayew(loan), Kouyate and Meyer, which in themselves, looked like good additions. The problem was, all they were doing was replacing Cabaye, RLC and Sako, meaning we had not addressed the gaping issues in our squad. You could argue as well, that from what we have seen of Meyer, he is not as good as RLC, and as a much as I like Kouyate, I think Cabaye was more valuable in his final role for us, and he made Luka a better player too. So there we were, going into last season with a squad that was being neglected, and in doing so, allowing the issues to only grow and get bigger.
Come January last year, we were all begging for creative players. We needed at least two strikers, and a creative midfielder, minimum, just to see out the season. We loaned out Sorloth, lowering our striking numbers, and with just a few hours left of the window to go, all that had come in was Sako for round two! Thankfully, the desperation of Chelsea came to our rescue and we got Batshuayi last minute, but that happened because they were desperate to get rid of him, not because we had made it so. The arrival of Michy gave us a glimpse of what life could be like with a striker who actually had a poachers instinct and scored goals. Unfortunately, it was a loan, meaning come last summer, we were back to square one again. Even so, I think we all went into the summer with hope of finally getting business done, and starting to get the squad up to strength. Instead, we lost AWB early doors, and never replaced him. We also had Wilf unsettled and unhappy, and if we are honest, he has not been the same player this season. Sorloth left on a two year loan, while McCarthy, Cahill and Ayew all came in on permanent deals, while Camarasa joined on loan. This seems like good business, but Cahill is in his twilight years, and instead of bringing in a younger centre back who we could bed in while we had the numbers, we have just added another short term option. McCarthy plays in the one area that we aren't short, and while Ayew has been an excellent addition to our squad, he needs others to perform with him, and that isn't happening. As for Camarasa, well, none of us truly know what has gone on there. There were concerns, especially for anyone who attended the Hertha Berlin friendly, yet this squad got to 30 points by mid January. This, despite a ridiculous number of injuries, especially in the areas where we had no depth. A decent January, and we could have real hopes of a top half finish, and maybe even sneak into a Europa League spot. We should have learned though, that this doesn't happen at Palace. Tosun joined on loan, which was a start, albeit another temporary one. When talk began of right back Nathan Ferguson, and the free scoring Jerrod Bowen, some enthusiasm was created. Come the end of deadline day though, Ferguson remained at West Brom injured, and Bowen was holding up a West Ham shirt. There was also no left back, no other strikers, nothing at all. Roy had pleaded for players, and been given nothing. To rub salt into the wound, the one signing we made in Tosun, got injured. Now, the one small positive, was at least in the likes of Ferguson and Bowen, we had finally turned our eye to younger, talented players who would provide more long term investment. Sadly, it feels like we were attempting to lock the stable door after the horse had bolted, and even then, we fell on the door and ripped it off its hinges!!
Transfers have really been a big issue with the board. The signings of Jach, Rakip and Camarasa...they seriously need explaining. It is almost worrying how these have come about, and then gone the way they have. In the seven years, we have signed far too many duds. Far too many players who have done little for the team on the pitch, and we have not been able to sell, so they have prevented any money coming back into the coffers either. Then, you have the two mega signings, Benteke and Sakho. Both have come in on big transfer fees, and big wages. Both, in different ways, just have not been value for money. Bar his first season, Benteke's goal return has been horrendous. He has missed far too many chances and cost us points. He has been a massive outlay, that overall has not given the return on the pitch, and will likely give us no financial return when he leaves either. Sakho, on the other hand, has on the whole been excellent on the pitch. The problem we have, is actually getting him on the pitch. Injuries are a major issue with Sakho, and he misses far too many games in a season, especially for what we are paying. The likelihood, is we will lose him for nothing too. It is safe to say, that our foray into big money deals, hasn't worked well. Of course, Cabaye, Meyer and Wilf have also been high on the wage side of things, but at least not on the transfer outlay. We keep being told now that because of our huge wage bill, we have nothing left from the TV money, making little money available for incomings. Well, surely they should have worked that out before making these big deals, and to me, smacks of taking a gamble, that has cost us in the long run.
Away from transfers, there are other matters. The ground is one. It was all well and good announcing the grand plans for the stand, but clearly the excitement of doing so, meant they jumped the gun in actually checking it was going to be an issue on the Sainsbury front. Now, with every passing year in which we don't see the work start, nor hear from the club about what is going on, the more we believe it will never happen. For me, there is also an issue with Parish and his seeming desire to provide 'jobs for the boys'. He has done, exactly what I always did on Football Manager. Every time I managed Palace on that game, I would build a management team of old Palace players. Parish seems to be doing the same, as if the fanboy in him is just living the euphoria of having those people around. The big two on this, are Dougie Freedman and Mark Bright. Let's be honest, the appointment of Dougie made no sense, and has been a car wreck. Before his return was announced, the last time we saw Dougie, he was driving up to Bolton, having dumped us for more money. He had betrayed the entire club, and burned a lot of bridges. His return was never going to be popular. On top of that, he came in as Director of Football, a role he had never done. Why go for someone experienced in such a pivotal role, when you can appoint an old player that you used to cheer for? Just madness. Given how useless we have been in transfers since, it is no wonder so many question what the hell he actually does. To be honest, he seems to collect a pay check for very little return. Mark Bright is another who seems to do the same. I like Brighty, I have a lot of time for him, however, what the hell does he do at the club? An ambassador? Great, but an ambassador of what? I have heard that he is in charge of managing the players on loan. Well that must have been a cushty number the first half of this season, because hardly anyone was out on loan. In fact, given our younger players complained this season because they wanted loans and hadn't got them, again, you have to question what Brighty is doing, if that is indeed his role. Again, I feel it is just money for an old Palace boy. Would we have gone for Pardew, had he not been ex-Palace? It would be easy to argue that both ways. Salako came in as coach, and proceeded to do very little in that role. As much as I love nostalgia, perhaps the time has come to bring in fresh eyes that will actually have the balls to point out some home truths and drag us forward, not just milk being a Palace old boy.
Parish has talked about moving forward, but in reality, we have done anything but that. We are stagnating. We have stood still for several seasons, and now we are possibly even going backwards a little. If we got relegated this season, what would we have to show for our seven years in the Premier League? The answer, sadly, is very little. The ground is the same. Only one player has come through the academy, and we have sold him, and failed to reinvest the funds. We have an old squad, that to be honest, would struggle in the Championship. We haven't built anything, we have just plodded along, doing enough to survive.
Now, with the board out of the way(mostly), we then have Roy. Anyone who reads my articles will know, I am a big advocate of Roy. I think he is massively under appreciated by some of our fans, and I honestly believe that without him, we would have been relegated by now. He is not without his faults though, even I can see that. He doesn't make subs at times when he needs to. On many occasions, he hauls off the wrong player. His loyalty to a team doing well is fantastic, however, at times he sticks with what he knows too much, and it costs us. There are games where we are incredibly negative, where it looks as though the players have been told to not push forward. Sometimes, I can understand why. Other times, it makes no sense, and again, it costs us. He is a master at making us defensively tight, perhaps at the sacrifice of our offensive game. It isn't an issue when we are keeping clean sheets. But now that we aren't, suddenly our lack of attacking prowess is massively exposed. You have to question him in regards to some players as well. Naturally, Camarasa is one. While there are a few theories as to why he never played, it is highly possible that Roy just didn't want to play him, and you have to ask why. In terms of Benteke's horrible form, you have to admit that under Roy, we don't play to his strengths. Benteke is best with his head, yet we hardly ever cross him the ball. Then, of course there is Meyer, who doesn't play, and when he does, seemingly plays out of position. Finally, we never commit players into the box. We are always outnumbered in the box, and so it is no wonder we don't score many. You can question Roy on all of these issues.
Then, there are the players themselves. Some of the things that you could question Roy on, you could also easily question the players on. With Meyer, I still don't see a player who is what we hoped for. He has his moments, and is a decent impact sub, but I just don't think he has the build and mindset to dominate in a more physical league like the Prem. Benteke, while we don't play to his strengths, has also missed a ton of chances. He should be on a much higher goal return, but he has fluffed his lines time and time again. As for crosses, while we tactically don't seem to do them, if I am honest, when we do, we are rubbish at them. Wilf cuts the ball back on the ground, but is weak at crossing in the air. Townsend at times is brilliant at it, but not consistently. We are great at putting the ball too high to no one, and rarely find a player. Also, too many of our players have wasted chances in front of goal. Sure, at times we create little, but in most games, we create some great opportunities, and time and time again, our players seem to line up to take their turn to miss. If we converted at least half the chances we miss, we would be top seven. Oh, and don't get me started on set pieces. Do we not practice them? Because almost whoever takes our corners, takes rubbish ones! Every time we get a corner, I get excited for a moment, and then remember that we are shocking at them! The players have not been innocent at times in our struggles.
Finally, there is us fans. Now, this will piss some people off, naturally. But if we are going to sit here pointing fingers at everyone else, then I think we need to be honest about ourselves. We, as a fan base have stagnated. Let's be honest here. Take a moment to think back to our atmosphere in that promotion season, or in our first couple of seasons back in the Premier League. Now ask yourself, is Selhurst as passionate and fun as it was then? For me, the answer is no. We cling to our claim of being the best atmosphere in the Premier League, but in reality, we don't deliver that anymore. The majority of singing, comes purely from the singing section. Not many others can take any credit for trying to create atmosphere around the ground, because the rest of Selhurst is generally silent, apart from responding to odd moments on the pitch. Even then, the singing section feels a little forced and monotonous. I may be wrong, but when the fanatics were in Block B, it always seemed more organic and natural. Now, the drum pounds, and a guy is on a loud speaker, and the same song repeats over and over again, and at times it feels like it is singing to want to make noise, not singing because it's of pure passion for Palace in that moment. That is why less people join in I feel. Granted, with a lot of people they just don't want to sing, or can't be bothered. With others though, they want to sing, and we do have some really good songs. However, people either don't know half the words and only sing the chorus because it's the music part, not words, or they just aren't inspired by ten minutes of 'Boys From SE25'. Don't get me wrong, I know the singing section is trying hard to get things going, it just feels like it has changed a little. There are further elements to this, elements that the Premier League brings with it. One of those, is that promotion brings in a new set of fans. Now, some of these fans are fantastic, and truly passionate about the club having now discovered it. Others though, are the fan who couldn't be bothered turning up when we were a Championship team, and would quickly vanish if we went back down. They are the ones who are more vocal as well, because they expect the best, while the rest of us have sat through shitty freezing cold nights getting turned over by Crewe. The other side of that though, is those of us who have been around a long time, have probably started to act a bit more entitled, even if we don't mean to. A few years ago, we were just happy to be here. Now we have demands and expectations, and we get angry when they aren't met. It all adds to a sour atmosphere. You could even argue, that in a way, the HF sold out. The process of the singing section being put in place was a mess, and a lot of that mess was down to the handling of the situation by the board. However, while the idea is one designed from positivity, and is aimed at improving things within the ground for the people, the initial seed of it did not involve the people. The rest of us fans didn't know about it, until the initial talks between the HF and Parish had taken place. This, took it away from being just about the people, because we weren't involved from the start, and gave it more of a corporate feel. The moment you have a secret conversation first, it lost that respectability to it, which hasn't sat well with some people. But, it's not just one section of the crowd or another, it's on all of us. So many people now, are quick to moan and complain about anything and everything. Against Southampton, we went into the game with one loss in 10, and people booed us off at half time and full time!! They booed, as if we were bottom three churning out yet another pathetic showing! I used to always be on the BBS, until the whole seat moving saga drove me away, because fans on both sides of the issue were so abusive and diabolical to each other, it was disgusting. I ventured back on there on Saturday, just for updates on the Everton game, and it was horrendous. All I saw, was post after post, slating absolutely every player. You would have thought that we were bottom on zero points, with the worst players in the world. I mean, Ayew has been a shining light this season, and people on there were saying he was total shit. The only player who escaped abuse from what I saw, was Vicente, and I guarantee you they ripped him last week. All I ever hear is negativity from all quarters, and I keep moaning myself. We haven't been in the relegation zone for like two years, and yet there is so much criticism and negativity. It really doesn't take much for fans to turn on the club anymore. We have a decent run, and people are praising everyone. Then one bad performance, and the knives come out. We have lost our identity, our unity, both with each other, and with the players. That closeness, that bond, it just isn't there like it used to be. We try to convince ourselves that it is, but it isn't.
So, what does this all mean, other than me rambling on with grievances? Well, for me, we all share a portion of blame, for why Palace is such a hive of doom and gloom these days. However, in the end, it all comes back to the board. Roy has his faults, but the board haven't backed him, they have hung him out to dry. They haven't given him the players to take us forward, to push up. They have clearly stuck with the mindset of 'as long as we stay up', and in Roy they have the manager to do that. They have taken advantage of him, and used him. Tony Pulis, no matter what we think of him now, was the manager to build with long term, but he chose to walk away. Sam Allardyce was the manager to build something long term with, but he chose to walk away. You have to question why that is. To be honest, if he wasn't in his final years as manager, I think Roy would have done the same. Hell, he still could this summer. Against the odds, Roy got us into a fantastic position going into January, to have our best league season ever, and capitalise on the failings of the big teams. He did this despite a lack of depth, and major injury issues. It was then up to the board to give him what he needed to see it through, and they failed. So now, once again, we are just hoping to survive. With those failures, they have also let down the players. They haven't given us other options. They have hung players out to dry, like Benteke, because when his struggles first started, we couldn't take him out the firing line to get back on track, we had to keep playing him as we had no one else. The players we had left, somehow dragged us through the Christmas period, and the board have given them nothing extra to then help them carry on that hard work. All of this in turn, has a negative effect on us fans, because we are fed up of seeing us waste this opportunity. We have had our fill, of being let down in transfer windows. We are fed up, of negative performances, of poor home records(ever since promotion) and a serious lack of goals. It is killing the joy and passion within us. The actions of the board have had a knock on affect to everybody. We have seen under Roy, once we are safe, that actually he can play attacking football. In fact, give him the tools, and it can be fantastic. The end of the season when we had RLC, we were playing some of the best football I have ever seen. The board though, have not built on that, and the more negative their actions have been, the more negative Roy has had to become to compensate for what he doesn't have.
We are the only South London team in the Premier League. We have so much we can build on, to become a decent Premier League side that is an attractive option for players. Currently, our board is failing to capitalise on that. Something drastic needs to change. Yet, have we seen anything to indicate that they are planning for the future? I doubt they have even contemplated what direction they want to go after Roy, which will end up being another setback, and delay in our progress. This summer, it must change. If we continue on this path any longer, it won't just be relegation to the Championship, it could be the same fate as Sunderland. So either the board gets themselves together and pulls their finger out, or they all get out. Either way, it is time for change.