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5 games. 77 days. 450 minutes of football. 11% of a premier league season.
Whichever way you look at it, Frank de Boer’s tenure as Crystal Palace manager has been sickeningly short. There was plenty of optimism at Selhurst Park following his appointment in late June, but four defeats in four premier league games was enough for chairman Steve Parish to swing the axe, making Boer the first managerial casualty in the top flight this season, and making his tenure even shorter than his 85 day reign at Inter Milan. But is his sacking justifiable this time round?
The Case to Sack de Boer
Speculation had been mounting around de Boer’s future ever since a third consecutive league loss at Swansea. A poor opening performance at unfancied Huddersfield, losing 3-0, immediately drew attention to de Boer’s philosophy of playing attractive football that won him 4 Eredivisie titles in a row with Ajax. A tight 1-0 loss to Liverpool followed, before defeat and Swansea and then Burnley. On paper, 0 points from 4 games is most certainly worrying for any football chairman.
Considering the teams faced- a newly promoted side that have been widely tipped to go straight back down, the teams that finished 15th and 16th in last season’s premier league, and a team notorious for leaking goals in Liverpool- to score no goals and lose all four games is certainly unacceptable. Steve Parish may also have been thinking about the previous reign of Alan Pardew, whose expansive football sent Palace into freefall at the beginning of last season- Parish was extremely patient, waiting for Pardew to turn results around for several months, but to no avail. Maybe the risk of a repeat with de Boer was simply too much to cope with.
The Case against Sacking de Boer
As a chairman, if you hire a manager with the idea of completely changing the style of football your team plays, you simply cannot expect results and performances to be immediately as desired. This is even more obvious when arguably the team’s best player, Wilfried Zaha, is out with injury from the opening match of the season. De Boer clearly lacked support in the transfer market, with Palace only signing two players on permanent deals-Riedewald for £8m, and Sakho on deadline day. To change the style of play from Sam Allardyce’s robust, “ugly” style would surely need more signings than that, and particularly attacking players- of which the loan of Ruben Loftus-Cheek was the only one.
It also appears that Parish has decided against continuing with an expansive style, as Roy Hodgson is set to be de Boer’s replacement. This is bizarre considering that Palace took their time to appoint de Boer, unveiling him a month after Allardyce announced he was leaving the club. Many have also forgotten Allardyce’s first few games as manager- he picked a solitary point in their first 5 games, only scoring 2 goals and conceding 9 in the process, against Arsenal, Everton, Watford, Swansea and West Ham. The latter 3 teams certainly didn’t set the premier league alight last season, all finishing in the bottom half of the table, and a fairly similar set of teams to Palaces opening few fixtures of this season. On this basis, it appears incredibly unfair that de Boer wasn’t given more time.
When Palace’s first 4 games are looked at beyond results, many elements of the performance make de Boer’s sacking seem even more strange. Admittedly, Palace were all at sea against Huddersfield, but against Liverpool they were extremely well organised and were unlucky not to keep a clean sheet against one of the, if not the best, attacking teams in the league. This also showed that de Boer was willing to curtail his expansive philosophy in order to try and get results. Benteke had two chances he could and should have buried in the game too- it could have so easily been a Palace win at Anfield. At Swansea, James Tomkins was forced off injured; with Damien Delaney unavailable and Sakho yet to be signed, Martin Kelly was brought on at centre-back and made two crucial errors that led to both Swansea goals.
Finally, at Burnley, a moment of madness from Lee Chung-yong led to the Burnley goal that won them the game, and in turn decided de Boers’s future. Benteke was again at fault for not burying a golden chance, whilst Scott Dann had two headers cleared off the line and missed an open goal. Ultimately, errors such as those by Kelly and Lee, and a failure to put chances away, from Benteke and Dann, cannot be blamed on de Boer. The actual performance was very good-even Sean Dyche admitted that Palace played much better than Burnley. But despite the encouraging signs of improvement, it wasn’t enough.
Crystal Palace certainly have a group of players good enough for the premier league, and their results somewhat belied an accurate showing of their performances. But de Boer has now gone, leaving many utterly and rightly bemused with Steve Parish. When a manager is sacked, the blame is often laid solely at their feet- but Parish and the rest of the Palace board should take even more responsibility for their decision making.