After getting off to one of their worst ever starts to a Premier League season under recently-departed Dutch coach Frank de Boer, Crystal Palace have turned to former England manager Roy Hodgson in a bid to avoid the drop. With the memory of his ill-fated spell in charge of England still fresh in the minds of football followers, the appointment has been met with some cynicism by some Eagles fans.
For the best part of two decades, Hodgson was a sought-after manager both in England and on the continent. However, ill-fated spells at Liverpool and with the England national team saw his stock fall as he failed to deal with the added pressure of managing a club with the sort of stature that these two teams carry.
While some will point to Hodgson’s time in charge of both Switzerland and Inter Milan as counter-examples, it is now two decades since his relative success with these clubs. Regardless of Hodgson’s footballing pedigree, then, his appointment could be viewed as a return to a bygone era which has more to do with a hopeless reminiscence on the part of the Crystal Palace board of directors.
The question on the lips of the Palace supporters, though, will be much more immediate: can Hodgson do enough to save the club from relegation?
Stand out individuals
Despite having not managed a Premier League side for over five seasons, Hodgson’s tenure as England manager allowed him to continue educating himself with the ever-changing landscape of the Premier League. As a result, the former boss of the Three Lions will know where the quality lies within the league and the capabilities of his squad.
An argument can be made that Palace are a team who have over-achieved since returning to the Premier League given that squad lacks the requisite depth to maintain their place in English football’s elite league.
There are, however, some stand-out players within the squad. With players of the level of Yohan Cabaye, Wilfried Zaha and the on-loan Chelsea star Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the team, Palace clearly have the personnel to steer well clear of a relegation scrap.
Add into the mix, seasoned Premier League players like Scott Dann, Andros Townsend and Christian Benteke, it is clear that the Eagles have the quality within their first team to move them away from the foot of the table.
Where Palace do fall short, is perhaps in the depth of their squad and Chairman Steve Parrish’s decision to make an early change, will give Hodgson the chance to assess the club from top to bottom before the January transfer window to see what will be needed to continue their Premier League journey beyond this season.
This will afford him the opportunity to bring in the players he believes will fit the style that could save the club from a return to the Championship and the hierarchy at Palace, will no doubt give the funds needed to ensure that Hodgson gets the best opportunity to steer them away from the drop.
Playing to Hodgson’s strengths
Where Hodgson has succeeded in the Premier League in the past was most notably at West Bromwich Albion and Fulham. His three years at Fulham saw Hodgson replace a failing Lawrie Sanchez and turn the club into a comfortable mid-table team.
Even more impressively, this spell included a run to the UEFA Cup final, where Fulham finally succumbed to an in-form Atletico Madrid.
At West Bromwich, Hodgson steadied a ship that was still rocking in the wake of Roberto Di Matteo’s tenure, steering the club to a mid-table finish in the end.
Given this previous success with struggling Premier League sides, it is easy to see why it is that the board of management at Crystal Palace have plumped on Hodgson as the man to carry the club out of the relegation zone.
Nevertheless, in the half-decade since Hodgson was managing domestically in England, the Premier league has become an entirely different beast. It is slowly becoming less likely the case that a club can be saved from relegation simply through good management alone.
However, with a decent squad available to him, Hodgson will be hopeful of his ability to turn the club around.
An uphill struggle
It is easy to look at the current Premier League table and see the 4 points that separate Crystal Palace as easily surmountable. That said, with 32 games yet to run in the season, Palace find themselves in the position where they will need around 38 points for survival by any conservative estimate. In their last 33 league games, however, they have only accrued 30 points.
Even more concerning is the fact that Palace have only managed to get 38 points in 33 games two times since March 2016.
Despite Hodgson's credentials at mid-table Premier League sides, then, and despite the expectation of a transfer budget in January, the writing may already be on the wall for Crystal Palace.
The decision to hire Hodgson was played out against the background of the club's desire to blood a new kind of football at Crystal Palace. Where Frank De Boer represented an attempted modernisation - a hat-tip to continental possession football that ended up going horribly wrong - Hodgson is the return to what the club knows best: solid dependability. In the end, then, the decision to modernise may have been the thing that scuppered Palace.
If Hodgson can come in and get the team playing in the old style, the style in which they are most comfortable, then Crystal Palace may yet be able to claw their way out of the bottom three.
But it is hard to see this happening without a huge stroke of luck. One thing is certain though: if Hodgson manages to save them, then Palace fans will not worry about the manner in which he does it.
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