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Adam Sells’ Crystal Palace column on Roy Hodgson’s exit – unfathomable, undignified, unlucky and unfair

Monday night’s 1-1 draw at Everton left Palace in 15th place in the Premier League – on 25 points from 25 games. It was a spirited display at Goodison Park with a threadbare squad missing eight first-team players and featuring five players on the bench that had just one Premier League start between them. It was the latest instalment of what had become a familiar tale.

Leading 1-0 after Jordan Ayew had pulled a proverbial rabbit out of the hat, Palace tired and without experienced reinforcements they conceded late on. They didn’t have enough to win. It was only a second point secured this season without either Eberechi Eze or Michael Olise appearing on the playing field at any time.

Paddy McCarthy had temporarily taken charge, after the inevitable news just hours before kick-off that Roy Hodgson had “stepped down” from his role as first-team manager.

Soon after the appointment of Austrian Oliver Glasner as his replacement was confirmed as the club’s hierarchy rolled the dice in the hope of securing their top-flight status for a 12th successive season.

It was a sad end for Hodgson, who had given so much to Crystal Palace Football Club, the team he supported as a boy. The 76-year-old had been taken ill after collapsing at the training ground a few days before, amid rumours of his imminent dismissal.

For some who cared deeply, the announcement was a relief. The toxicity that has surrounded Palace has not been pleasant in recent weeks with the vitriol aimed in his direction ugly and unfair.

Eintracht Frankfurt manager Oliver Glasner with his winners medal after the UEFA Europa League Final at the Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan, Seville. Picture date: Wednesday May 18, 2022.

The club’s owners were equally facing a constant barrage of discontent and when those at the top come under fire, a change in the dugout almost certainly follows. It was reported that majority shareholder John Textor was driving change, and that former Eintracht Frankfurt coach Glasner was his man.

A change had been coming. Since the ignominious home defeat at the hands of Bournemouth in the first week of December the baying mob weren’t going to let go. As the most successful manager in the history of the club walked along the touchline he was subjected to a ‘fan’ – and I use that term loosely – throwing a bottle in his direction.

The witch-hunt had begun. Every quote applied to Hodgson was now being forensically examined by those with an agenda – often taken out of context or without the full sentences and paragraphs to which those words were being applied.

The players’ conditioning was questioned. ‘Over training’ said some, other claimed players were not prepared for the rigours of Premier League football. Every hamstring that went was pinned on Hodgson, such was the irrational thinking of parts of the fanbase.

When Michael Olise broke down after coming on at the Amex Stadium in the 4-1 defeat at rivals Brighton & Hove Albion, the derision only intensified further.

But Roy couldn’t win. Don’t bring on Olise and his detractors would have accused him of giving the game up at 3-0 down. If the medical people deemed him fit and he is at the manager’s disposal, then he would want to use him. There was no way back. An undignified end was coming.

Perspective, just like players that can carry the ball and go past people, has been missing all season.

Hodgson was never going to win before a ball was kicked. He was constantly having to shuffle a pack that contained only two aces. More often than not, he was not able to play those two aces.

If the worst-case scenario plays out and Palace do fall through the relegation trap door, the lack of wide players at his disposal and the incoming coach will be the biggest factor.

Manchester United’s Antony (left) and Galatasaray’s Wilfried Zaha battle for the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group A match at RAMS Park, Istanbul. Picture date: Wednesday November 29, 2023.

After losing Wilfried Zaha last summer, the club’s greatest ever player, Olise suffered a serious long-term hamstring injury while representing his country in June.

A look at the teamsheets from the last couple of games of the previous season showed that with Zaha the only attacking injury, Palace were able to name Jean-Philippe Mateta as their only attacking substitute.

Depth and numbers were required. Matheus Franca was brought in but missed the first two months with a lower back fracture and was completely unproven.

Franca has shown glimpses of quality but taken time to physically adjust. Though there may well be a top player there long term, he has not been ready to hold a spot down regularly.

Jesurun Rak-Sakyi is another with talent and, like Franca, may well develop but also needs time.

That left Jordan Ayew and Jeffrey Schlupp as the only other options. Both are better deployed elsewhere. Ayew is a centre-forward but will do a job wherever he is asked to perform. He tends to meander inside and wriggle rather than beat a full-back on the outside.

Schlupp’s best performances in Palace colours have come as an attacking midfielder.

Outside Olise, there is not a wide player who will consistently be able to provide what is needed and he has only been able to appear in 11 of the 25 matches played, completing 90 minutes just seven times. In 755 minutes of Premier League football, he has provided six goals and three assists. A huge miss.

It was unfathomable that the club did not do more to strengthen this area with two proven players at the level before the window closed in August.

Not even a loan player was brought in.

Crystal Palace v Sheffield United – Premier League, Selhurst Park, 30 January 2024
Picture : Keith Gillard

January came and went without putting that issue right. Though it was great that the club were able to add an experienced attacking right-back in Daniel Munoz and a very talented passer in Adam Wharton, the window closed without the most critical area of the squad being addressed.

Eze has not been available for nine of the 25 fixtures and only completed 90 minutes nine times. Palace have not won a game without him featuring at some stage. Nineteen points have been accrued in his 16 appearances.

Apply this ratio over the 25 games and Palace would only be 10 points from the magical 40-point mark, 10 points clear of the relegation zone.

Cheick Doucoure’s injury was another huge blow. Prior to the Luton Town fixture at Kenilworth Road in October, when he left the field on a stretcher early in the second half at 0-0, Palace had gleaned 14 points from the 10 matches in which he participated.

Injuries are part and parcel of the game – but the squad was never prepared. Roy, being Roy, just got on with the job but was left in an impossible position.

He was going into battle against top teams in the biggest league in the world, most of them boasting huge attacking artillery, with the equivalent of a pen knife and water pistol at his disposal.

There were social media posts and various podcasts demanding that Hodgson went. There were ridiculous comments and derisory claims that he was “carried” or “bailed out” by the likes of Zaha, Olise and Eze – just like Erling Halaand carries Pep Guardiola or Mo Salah bails out Jurgen Klopp?

Another longed for a return to the “glory days” of Andrew Johnson and Iain Dowie…Palace were relegated that season on the final day. But the man that had overseen pretty much half of Palace’s 11 consecutive seasons in the Premier League was being hung out to dry? Just by way of a reminder, nobody has ever managed that in the football club’s history.

It was also claimed in some quarters that media pundits outside of the club couldn’t understand what it is like to follow Palace and didn’t empathise with the fans frustration. The opposite is true. Those able to look from a slight distance offered true perspective without emotion. Expectation has been far too high this season given the depleted squad.

It seems a top-10 finish is the barometer on which Roy was being measured. Add Newcastle United, Aston Villa, West Ham United and Brighton to the ‘big six’ and it is hard to see why even the most partisan Crystal Palace fan should expect to be there, particularly given the level of investment, depth of the squad and the terrible luck with injuries.

We all want to improve. There are always things that can be done better but the issue was not with the manager or the coaching team.

Palace were not underachieving. At the same stage last season, Palace had two more points than they have now and they had Zaha, Olise, Eze and Doucoure at Patrick Vieira’s disposal for the most part.

Arsenal v Crystal Palace – Premier League, Emirates Stadium, 20 January 2024
Picture : Keith Gillard

Hodgson and his trusted sidekick Ray Lewington have proven that when quality players are at their disposal, they will get results and play a very exciting brand of football.

When recalling matches at Selhurst last April against the likes of Leicester City and West Ham, for example, Palace played what could be best be described as champagne football – looking like they could score at will, creating chance after chance. It was a team that you could argue was packed with half a dozen Champions League-quality players.

This season, the same managerial team has had to cope without four of those six for the most part – probably around £300m of talent.
Going back further seasons, when the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek were around, it was the same.

Without being privy to Hodgson’s current situation after his recent hospital stay, if he were able to continue then he would represent the best hope of eking out the points needed to ensure safety. His most recent two victories came with Olise and Eze providing six goals between them.

He has kept the ship steady in the most testing of circumstances. Roy has been the fall guy here.

I can’t help feeling that, not unlike Roy, Steve Parish is somewhat of the fall guy at board level. He is the public face of the operation day to day, but he cannot make all the decisions alone. He is just part of the current structure and has the unenviable task of getting all parties to agree.

It is ok to be dissatisfied – we all want more and progress – but the levels of abuse being aimed at the most successful people in the roles of chairman and manager has gone way beyond acceptable.

Does the playing squad need more? Yes. Everybody would agree, probably Steve too, but that will always be the case. But there are limitations and restrictions. Though criticism may be justified in this respect, it does not necessarily mean that the same is not desired at board level.

He has worked tirelessly to bring stability and more often than not made the right calls when he has had to. His contribution should never be underestimated.

Crystal Palace v Sheffield United – Premier League, Selhurst Park, 30 January 2024
Picture : Keith Gillard

One thing is for certain, Steve never gets up in the morning wondering what he can do that day to damage the fortunes of Crystal Palace Football Club.
Without him, there may not have even been a football club to talk of. Steve and the other guys put their money where their mouth was 14 years ago and 11 of those seasons since have been in the top-flight of English football.

I hope that the arrival of Glasner, represents a positive step into the future. But at this stage, it is a huge gamble. Let’s hope it proves to be an inspired appointment. More Roberto De Zerbi than Frank de Boer.

The negativity that has dogged the season must dissipate.

Palace have been up against it all season and the ingredients of a relegation recipe are all there – an unbalanced squad, fans’ discontent about the direction of the club and injury after injury. Media stories about the manager pushing back on players and whether the ownership is united around the manager are unhelpful and lead to a feeling of instability.

It is important that fans unite and put any agenda to one side.

The team is going to need all the help it can get through the remaining 13 games and a similar mentality to that when Palace were written off in their first season back in the Premier League, under Tony Pulis, is what is required right now.

Adam Sells is the managing director of Sells Goalkeeper Products. He has followed the fortunes of Crystal Palace since 1976, working within the club’s academy for more than 15 years until 2013. He is a licensed intermediary, representing a number of goalkeepers.

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One thought on “Adam Sells’ Crystal Palace column on Roy Hodgson’s exit – unfathomable, undignified, unlucky and unfair

  • An excellent article.


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