Crystal Palace: A Change Has Come

Today’s article begins with some trivia. Can you name me the only London-based Premier League team whose home stadium is south of the Thames?


If you answered Crystal Palace, give yourself a point. I’m going to be examining the pride of South London (since they’re its only Premier League side) and their relationship with success. More importantly, how they’ve managed to develop such a fine balance between good and bad that they’ve become perfectly mediocre. A byword for the distinctly average.


Crystal Palace Sack Patrick Vieira — How We Got Here


The Pride of South London


To the casual fan, the team from Selhurst Park (Nelson Road if you’re a Ted Lasso fan) might appear to be the picture of stability. Well, that’s no accident, it’s because most of the last 30 years were anything but. Between 1989 and 2009, the team’s history reads like something out of a best seller, in that time the club were:


  •       Promoted to the Premier League
  •       Finished 3rd (thanks to a 25-goal haul from a young Ian Wright)
  •       Became a founding member of the Premier League and were relegated the same season
  •       Were promoted to the Premier League 3 more times and relegated three more times
  •       Made 5 domestic cup semi-finals


This era of organised chaos finally came to a head in 2010 when the administrators came calling. Amidst threats of liquidation and having Selhurst Park sold to developers, Palace needed a hero. Well, swap the cape and superpowers for a blue suit and a comb-over and you’ve got him.


Jeffrey Schlupp: Crystal Palace’s Ghanaian Jack-of-all-Trades


In 2011, local businessman Steve Parish led a consortium of local businessmen who purchased both the club and the ground. Now, with their long-term future secure, the club could focus on winning again. In two short years, they were promoted to the Premier League. Success, pop the champagne! Now all we have to do is stay up, then we can progress. How hard can it be?


The Premier League Years: Constant Tedium


Fast forward ten years and we have received the answer to that question: very. Things started well. In their debut season, the club finished 11th on 45 points. Then, they went one better, finishing 10th on 55 points. Then, nothing.


Despite a trip to the FA Cup Final in 2016, the club ultimately failed to progress. Over the next 8 seasons they never bettered their 10th place finish, finishing in either 11th, 12th, 14th or 15th (they must be superstitious). How is such perfect mediocrity possible, you ask? It comes from the top.


Michael Olise: Crystal Palace’s Orchestrator on the Flanks


While I can safely say that for saving the club, Steve Parish deserves a statue, he’s also the reason they’ve gone backwards. The most successful club owners have a simple formula. Have an ambitious goal, develop a plan to get there, hire staff to execute it, and watch the wins pile up. Simple. Unfortunately, until about 2021, Palace’s priorities were to stay in the Premier League and not spend too much money.


Recruitment – Conservative and Cost-effective


Now, both of these things are absolutely brilliant goals to have, but if an organisation needs forward momentum, they’re a killer. In an age where Brighton and Brentford have shown us the advantages of a wide-ranging scouting network and the sign and develop strategy, Palace’s recruitment strategy went the other way during their first 8 years in the Premier League. It was cheap, conservative and focused on markets close to home.


The problem with this strategy is that while players are easier to evaluate (how many South American wonderkids fail in Europe) everyone else can do that too. This increase in competition for signatures means that you’ve got to pay a premium for the best talent. Since Palace weren’t, they didn’t get it.


Joachim Andersen: The Danish Defender at the Heart of Crystal Palace’s Defence


This, combined with a priority on experience (since safety was the goal) had a predictable outcome. While there were some highlights (Yohan Cabaye, Luka Milivojevic) and some failures (Conor Wickham, Alexander Sorloth) most recruitment was downright average. There’s a theme emerging, right? This showed itself most in forward areas of the pitch.


Since promotion in 2013, only four players not named Wilfred Zaha have scored 10 or more Premier League goals. Now, in the short term, this isn’t necessarily a problem, a good manager can cover up any cracks and can coach players up. However, this was not the case for Palace. 


Management – Safety, Security, Stagnation


Aside from a disastrous five-game spell under Frank De Boer (because of cost-effective recruitment) Palace’s permanent managers between 2013 and 2021 were:


  •   Ian Holloway
  •   Tony Pulis                                  
  •   Neil Warnock
  •   Alan Pardew  
  •   Sam Allardyce
  •   Roy Hodgson


Chris Richards: Crystal Palace’s American Defender


Now, there are definitely some common themes here. They’re all experienced (old), had all managed a lot of Premier League games and all projected an image of stability (remember, the only goal was not to get relegated). This had the expected impact on performances. The lack of attacking talent was made obvious, the football was poor, and the results were too. By 2021, the team was old, distinctly average and languishing in 14th. A shot in the arm was needed.


2021 – The Year It All Changed for Palace


Then, in 2021 a miracle happened! Culture change! The first thing sign thing to shift was recruitment. Starting the year before the club had started to prioritise youth and potential over age and experience. In 2021 they supercharged this transition by making 10 new signings. Headed up by the likes of Michael Olise, Marc Guehi & Conor Gallagher this group was young, hungry and full of potential.


In July, Roy Hodgson was replaced by former Arsenal great Patrick Vieira, who’d just guided OG Nice to a 6th-place finish in Ligue 1. He was young, hungry and full of potential. Then, in August the club welcomed a new board member, John Textor. He wasn’t young, hungry or full of potential, but he had a lot of money and he’s important later.


Odsonne Edouard: The Final Piece of the Crystal Palace Jigsaw


By the end of the season, it looked like the club had turned a corner. The new young players looked good and Vieira looked to be an inspired appointment. They’d beaten Arsenal, Spurs and Manchester City and secured a 12th-place finish. The next season fans felt a strange sensation, hope. The club had made more high-potential signings, they could develop under Vieira and a new era could begin.


It lasted six months. By March, a run of 5 points from a possible 27 saw Vieira sacked and replaced with *drum roll* you guessed it, Roy Hodgson. But only on an interim basis. Just kidding, he got the job permanently at the end of the season.


Fast forward and the 2023/24 season has gone how a lot of people probably thought it would. Amidst the loss of star man Wilfried Zaha, injuries and managerial health scares, Hodgson stepped down due to ill health on February 19, with the club languishing in 15th.  



The New Man in Charge


We’ve seen this one before, who was his replacement? Sam Allardyce again? No, this time it was different. The last three years of recruitment meant the squad was stocked full of exciting young players. The squad was ambitious, it needed a manager to match it.


Remember John Textor? Well, he’s now the club’s largest shareholder and he’s a lot more ambitious than Parish. He lobbied for such a man. Enter, Oliver Glasner.


On paper, Glasner couldn’t be more different from Palace’s previous appointments. Firstly, he’s under the age of 50. Secondly, he’s a serial winner. He took LASK Linz from the Austrian second division to the UEFA Champions League, guided Wolfsburg to a 4th placed finish in the Bundesliga, and won the UEFA Europa League with Eintracht Frankfurt.


Player Analysis: Marc Guehi


Finally, he’s a lot more tactically aware than his predecessors. While his main formation would be recorded as a 3-4-2-1, Glassner’s teams are entirely fluid switching between that, 3-2-5 and 3-4-3 within games depending on how opponents are set up. Out of possession, this becomes a 5-2-3, wing backs drop deep and players work within the group to press opposition players ensuring they win the ball back as high up the pitch as possible.


In possession, the team focuses on stretching their opposition across the pitch. This in turn generates space and creates a high volume of quality attacking chances which the team exploits through fast, vertical counterattacks. In short, the club hired a man whose style was fast, unpredictable and exciting. Amazing!


Crystal Palace – A New Era


So, the season might be on the home stretch, but it feels like a new beginning for Palace. They’ve got a young squad full of potential and a successful manager who plays attractive, direct football, and they kicked off the Glasner era on Saturday with a 3-0 victory against 10-man Burnley, securing their first win in a month.



While there’s every chance it’s another false dawn, I for one am prepared to show a little faith. There might be bumps in the road, but the Eagles might finally start to progress. What’s that word again? Hope? 


By: Kieran Alder / @The_Own_Goal

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Matthew Ashton – AMA / Getty Images