By Conor O’Sullivan
Roy Hodgson has prioritised securing a striker and goalkeeper to bolster Crystal Palace’s survival chances as he reflected on his first two months in charge since taking over from sacked manager Frank de Boer.
Hodgson spoke ahead of the Eagles’ crucial home fixture against fellow strugglers Everton at Selhurst Park on Saturday. Palace are bottom of the Premier League on four points after 11 games, seven behind the Merseyside club. Striker Christian Benteke is back in training and could return on Saturday. Palace have earned four points from a possible 18 since Hodgson was installed as manager.
“Listen, we need more forwards in our squad,” he said. “We’re going into matches without one, unless you count the young Freddie Ladapo who has only played non-league and League Two football. Newcastle and other clubs have a few of those, too. I’m talking about recognised Premier League players or who should be playing in the Premier League.
“Four to zero – that’s obviously ridiculous. Even if Christian Benteke is fit and plays well, even if Connor Wickham gets fit sooner, we still need forward additions to our squad. We don’t have enough players in that area. It will be important for me, the chairman and Dougie Freedman to sit down together and decide what our priorities are and, most importantly, what are the profiles of the players to complement the players we’ve already got.
“There’s no point in bringing in players to compete in areas where we’re already happy. I don’t need competition for Wilf Zaha, I don’t need competition from Yohan Cabaye and Luka Milivojevic or any centre-backs. Let’s see if we can find names who can suit us because that’s the next thing: we may get the profiles but there may not be anyone out there who we believe is any good in those profiles or that we can afford.
“In an ideal world, you don’t shop in the January transfer window. It is usually the time when clubs offload players so you must be very careful that the player you’re signing will strengthen your team rather than someone, the other club merely wanted to offload.
“We need a goalkeeper. We need a third goalkeeper, at least, to compete with those two. We need an extra body because all we have at the moment is a young lad and it would be very unfair at the moment if anything happened to the two senior goalkeepers to throw him in. And Julian (Speroni) is 38-years-old. He can’t play forever.”
Expectations have increased on Palace given the influx of fortunes into the Premier League but Hodgson is thankful to have a realistic support group that realise avoiding relegation has to be the priority every season.
“It depends how you define success. I think increasingly people will define success as not getting in the top six — to do that you’re going to need huge financial resources — but as playing good football, staying the league and being a stable Premier League club that treats its fans to good football every year. If success is just about winning the league, there will always be 19 disappointed clubs and if you think the Champions League is the be-all and end-all, then of course you’ll constantly have a situation when 14 or 15 clubs feel like their failing. These are facts of life.
“We have a very good supporter base here, they’ve been use to suffering with the team. It hasn’t been a top six or Premier League ride for Crystal Palace supporters. But look I do think they’re supporters rather than fans. They’re there to support us through the hard times, as long as we can show them that we care as much about it as they do and the players are giving their all and working as hard as they possible can. If our on failing is that we’re not good enough and the other teams have more quality, they will forgive us. Because they are supporters. Fans don’t do that.
“They jump around, they jump on your bandwagon and desert you when you hit the harder times. I remember I used to come here as a boy and there was a fella who used to stand behind my dad and I — now I watched Palace lose many more games than I saw them win in the late 50s and early 60s — and with about five minutes to go the crowd would go quiet because we were usually losing and it didn’t look like we’d get back in it.
“And this fella would shout out at the top of this voice, ‘This is the last time I come here Palace and watch this rubbish!’ And he was always back there next week. And if he was in a better mood, if we were about 3-0 down and really out it, he’d shout, ‘You’re leaving it late again’. But that’s what a supporter was. He didn’t bugger off to Chelsea or hop over to Fulham. He was back the next week, stood in the same place.”
The former England manager spoke of his strong relationship with chairman Steve Parish and sporting director Dougie Freedman who oversaw Hodgson’s appointment in September. Freedman returned to club where he played and managed to assist the manager with recruitment.
Hodgson said: “You’re comparing with managers who have worked with him for long periods of time. I can only speak as I find but in under two months he’s been extremely supportive. I enjoy my relationship with him and I can’t ask for any more in terms of the support he is giving in every area.
“And I hope and believe if there is extra support he can give him in January, when there’s a possibility to bring players, he will do it because he loves and cares deeply about this club.
“Dougie (Freedman) was appointed by the chairman. He wasn’t appointed by me and he was involved in the [managerial] selection process after Frank de Boer and I have a very good relationship with him. He’s doing an outstanding job. He does a lot of work with Steve in other areas of the club which don’t affect or interest me. Both him and Steve Parish have made it perfectly clear that they want to free up as much work as possible around the club — in the commercial dept etc — so I feel 100% free to concentrate all my efforts on the team.
“Of course, that includes recruitment and that’s where Doug and I are working most closely at the moment. We’re working on potential profiles but we haven’t really got as far as discussing who may fit those profiles yet. But we’ve given our scouting people some profiles and said come up with some names. We our adding some names we may know of from our experiences.
“And in the meantime, we’re being bombarded by the Telegraph and other newspapers about players we haven’t given a thought to. I do give a thought to Jack – he’s an outstanding player – but not in terms on Crystal Palace.”
Hodgson claimed him and Freedman have identified the profile of player they want to sign but claimed that Palace will not be rigid in the type of player they sign in terms of Premier League experience. The ex-Fulham manager admitted Palace will have to be realistic in terms of the type of players they can recruit.
“You can’t be as simplistic as that. The type of centre forward will be important and that will depend on Benteke’s progress. Do we want to clone Benteke or do we want someone slightly different who will complement him if we wanted to play with two centre forwards?
“If we limit ourselves to players who play in the Premier League, we may be limiting the market majorly and there may literally be nobody because if we’re going to sign a player, we want him to do good enough to get in our team and better than players we’ve got. It’s unlikely that Premier League clubs would release those types of players.
“They will only release their also-rans. We can’t rule out taking players from outside the country. Obviously, Premier League experience is a bonus — there’s no question of that — but it’s not the be-all and end-all.
“It is right to say that what will happen between now and January will affect our thinking and what type of players we can attract but how exactly affects it, I now couldn’t tell you. I personally think the players have done well in the last four games. Can they given us another six games like that and pick up points along the way? That will affect our thinking.
“We may decide we don’t need so much. But if we have another seven games and continue not to get points or people let us down, we’ll be looking to get something in because time will be running out and we need to give ourselves the best chance of staying up.
“I don’t know what the budget is. We don’t discuss budgets. If you want to talk about money, that’s something for Steve Parish and Josh Harris. They’re the ones who control the purse strings. It will be done a lot through Doug Freedman and I’m realistic to know that I need to put forward names that they can afford.
“You next question will be, ‘what can they afford?’ and I’ve got no idea. I’d be very surprised if the chairman said, ‘We’re going to make this amount of money available and you go and spend it how you want.’ I’m not sure that’s ever happened in football, certainly not in Premier League clubs. No manager will be given a sum of money and told to spend it how they want.”
After Everton, Palace face a crucial run of games up to Christmas that includes Stoke at home, Brighton and West Brom away, Bournemouth and Watford at home before two away games to Leicester and Swansea City. These eight fixtures could define Palace’s season but Hodgson is relaxed about labelling fixtures in terms of importance and claims the mood in the squad has been good all season despite the relegation battle.
He said: “I think it will be as important as every passage of five games to be perfectly honest. You could divide the season up, if you wanted by five and say we’ve got between five and six packages of five games and I think they’ll all be very important. I personally contest the fact that this five will suddenly be so much easier to win than the five we played before them because I don’t see the league that way.
“I see the league as every time you go out and play, you’ve got an opponent who can beat you and unless you’re doing the job properly, at your best, taking your chances and making certain you’re not making too many mistakes at the other end, you can lose against everybody.
But the beauty is you can win against anybody and we showed that against Chelsea and we’ve been reasonably close to winning the tree games after that. If we had won the three games after that, people couldn’t have been
shouting, ‘It’s a scandal, how have they done that, how have they been that lucky?’ Because we’ve been close enough to win them all.”
“The mood is as good as it can be and we work hard to make certain the mood is good. We want a good mood but a good professional mood. The type of good mood that comes if you’re a serious professional and you care about your job and you care about playing football, the good feeling you get when you’ve done the training session you should be doing, and you’ve worked hard in that training session and you’ve done everything you can do to prepare for the next match.
“That’s a good mood. It’s not a mood of euphoria because we’re top of the league — of course it isn’t. But it’s also a long way from people coming in dejected, not looking forward to training or feeling down. It’s not all like that. The mood is exceptionally good — given our circumstances. To some extent, the players can take a lot of credit for that but so can the coaching staff. We’ve worked hard for it.
Despite the difficult situation that Hodgson came into following the sacking of Frank de Boer, the 70-year-old has been able to use his 50-year managerial experience, including saving Fulham and West Brom from relegation after being appointed midseason, to take a measured approach to lifting a Palace squad that took seven Premier League games to register their first goal.
“It’s pretty much as I expected. Obviously, you hope the team is going to hit the ground running and turn four straight defeats to four straight wins. But that would’ve been a pipe dream. Everything else with the club, the discussions with the chairman and with Dougie Freedman I had before accepting the offer, has been absolutely spot on.
“I think they identified a lot of the things that they thought needed to be done. Having come here, I see what they mean and I’ve been very satisfied that so much of what I hoped to find here is here. What I hope for, more than anything, is these types of facilities. It’s fantastic. It’s not Arsenal but it’s a lot better than a lot of other places and you can’t ask for better than what we’ve got here. But more importantly, I was hoping for a group of players who would say to myself, Ray Lewington and Steven Reid, ‘We’re ready, we’re up for it, show us what you want, we’re prepared, we want tactical work, we want you to push us, we want you to be firm with us.’ And that’s what I’ve got.
“I would defy anybody who has watched us in the last four games to question our commitment, our desire, our application, our work-rate, our physicality. We’re right at the top of what we can do in those areas. I may say to the players, ‘you’re not good enough.’ That’s a judgement and when you’re bottom of the table, you may just have to swallow it. But we’re working hard to be good enough and I can’t fault the players desires to try to be good enough. It’s not an overnight thing, it’s not a magic wand thing. It’s day-to-day, week-to-week, Monday-to-Friday, I hope to see the results on a Saturday.
All four of Palace’s Premier League points have come in SE25 and while Hodgson admits Palace’s home form will be crucial, he is focused on producing a high standard of performance. Despite Everton’s difficult start to the season and their own managerial issues in relieving Ronald Koeman of his duties last month, Hodgson expects a very difficult game on Saturday.
“Home form is very, very important but it’s important to start talking about making your home a fortress because every club wants to do that. They want to do it at the London Stadium, they want to do it at the Emirates, they want to do it at Wembley. We certainly want to do it here, we wanted to do it at Fulham. But to make your home ground a fortress, you’ve got to play well. That’s the bottom line.
He added: “You don’t do it by just saying, ‘I want this place to be a fortress’. What we could do, given the atmosphere at Selhurst Park and the iconic nature of the stadium, we could gain something from that, there’s no doubt. But you can’t divorce it from the fact that you need to play good enough football to win matches. We’ve got to defend well enough and score some goals. That’s the bottom line everywhere.”
“We had a battle at Fulham in the beginning and the first half of the season at West Brom was a battle too because I was brought in because they thought they were going to relegated. We ended up in the top half but that wasn’t what I was brought in to do.
“It’s very similar and my spells at Fulham and West Brom to stand me in good stead because there were moments there when you could despair of not having what you thought was the right squad or the right players but the faith we had in the players and the faith the players had in us paid off. That’s good experience for me here.”
“Everton may still challenge. The fact is it’s a day-to-day game here and what people say in early November may be different in February, and everyone will forget that the person who wrote Everton were a disaster in November will write that they are fantastic and the best team in the league in February. I think they’ve got some very good players and I’ll be very surprised if they don’t kick on and those players don’t show how good they are. The pedigree of that team is second to none, really.
“It’s full of internationals — I’ve worked with several of them and know how good they are. I rail against it when people say it’s only Everton or only Stoke. I don’t think they will be any easier than Newcastle away and Tottenham away when we did well but we didn’t get any results.”
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