After the melodrama of Sam Allardyce’s abrupt resignation, Crystal Palace have fallen quiet. Unlike the weeks after Tony Pulis’s departure two years years ago, there isn’t a steady flow of names being connected with the job and every half-baked British manager isn’t putting their name forward for consideration.
Tim Sherwood is nowhere to be seen.
The timing has been convenient. Unlike Pulis, Allardyce has left at a time which allows the club to pause for thought. Good news, because – really – every appointment Palace have made since arriving back in the Premier League has been reflexive. Pulis was a reaction to Ian Holloway’s departure, Neil Warnock was used to fill the Pulis void, and Alan Pardew was a semi long-term response to Warnock’s sacking. Allardyce’s own arrival was necessitated by circumstance, as he was pushed into the pilot seat with the hope that he would correct Pardew’s nosedive towards the Championship.
So this is the first time in years that Palace will have the opportunity to truly determine their own path. To not lurch towards the best available option, but to consider the type of team they want to be. That’s an important difference. Making decisions in the middle of a season is never ideal and, typically, appellant candidates tend to be cautious when relegation is in play. As a result, clubs caught in the survival vortex tends to punch in the dark, pursuing nothing other than a highly literal form of improvement.
So this is different: Palace are safe, they are recent recipients of the latest broadcasting payment, and they have a talented squad under contract. Parish isn’t offering a potential ticket to the Football League anymore, but rather a really good job with a very real chance of advancement. Selhurst Park’s limitations may give the impression of a club which is going nowhere fast, but that belies the reality: with some season-to-season stability, mid-table and above should certainly be within reach.
There’s another value to permanence, though. With the exception of Jeff Schlupp, Luka Milivojevic and Patrick van Aanholt, every member of the squad has now worked with two managers and, in most cases, three (rising to four very shortly). Beyond the obvious benefits of continuity, such a high rate of change typically has a dampening effect on more expressive players. If, for instance, Andros Townsend, Christian Benteke and the newly-extended Wilfried Zaha were allowed to play within the same tactical system for any length of time, one imagines that they would greatly benefit from it. Similarly, specifically with a player like Zaha, firm, consistent direction at this point in his career would have a clear value and go a long way to maximising the talent he so obviously has. He’s played extremely well since returning from Manchester United, but – generally from within a counter-attacking system – has produced a mixture of match-winning performances with an occasional propensity to try too hard. If Palace were ever to become a front-foot side and shift Zaha’s ratios, imagine the levels he could reach.
From a recruiting perspective, it’s also imperative that Palace make an appointment which implies the existence of a long-term vision. While bigger clubs have the luxury of being able to offer exorbitant wages, those lower down have to maximise their appeal by offering something of footballing worth. Again, Palace haven’t really been in that position before in the top flight; Allardyce, Pulis, Warnock, and Pardew were not managers who players were in a rush to play for and each of them, in their own way, limited Palace’s reach in the transfer market. Obdurate centre-halves and destroying midfielder-types might be drawn to such pragmatism, but most others fear the effect it can have on their reputation.
Conversely, consider the effect that Marco Silva’s appointment might have had? Forget the personality and focus on the style: developing forwards and creative midfielders want to play for coaches with reputations for ambitious football. Silva may have subsequently been installed at Vicarage Road, but he is very much the type of manager who Palace should be pursuing. Ambitious and attack-based, certainly, but also someone emblematic of organisational momentum. Just as that decision by Watford would seem to indicate the end of their season-by-season approach to Premier League survival, perhaps Palace can use their own managerial ellipsis to end this firefighting era? Up until now, they’ve done what they’ve had to do to stay in the division and what they’ve been forced into by under-performance. Now, they actually have the opportunity to plot a course beyond the near horizon.
Longevity, even in the relative sense, brings with it all sorts of positives. From the intangible values that come with developing a distinct identity, to the merits of having a transfer policy which isn’t re-booted every six months and reconstructed around a new manager’s immediate needs. Sometimes, it even clears the pathways between the academy and the first-team, with a manager able to broaden his oversight beyond just the leaky defence and the unbalanced midfield.
This is football’s “choose life” equivalent: a chance, if they get this decision right, for Palace to abandon the struggle for good.