Football: We're sinking fast but whose hand is on the tiller?
FAN'S EYE VIEW NO 244 Crystal Palace
Saturday 14 February 1998
Crystal Palace are on course to become the first club in the history of the professional game in England to go a whole season without a home league win, yet even during Monday's abysmal 3-0 defeat by Wimbledon the only public expressions of discontent were a brief chorus of "what a load of rubbish" and, at the end, some booing and jeers, directed mainly at Steve Coppell, the manager.
Perhaps it's because we've been here before, as we contemplate our third relegation from the top flight in five years. In particular, this has unpleasant echoes of three seasons ago, when Alan Smith's collection of talented youngsters - it's still painful to imagine how a team including Southgate, Martyn, Armstrong, Coleman, Shaw and Salako could have been relegated - went down after a season poisoned by the manager's disintegrating relationship with his chairman, Ron Noades.
Ah yes, Big Ron. This time around the question is not so much his dealings with the manager - Coppell and Noades have worked successfully together for many years - but how the two men (Coppell in particular) will fit in with Mark Goldberg, the moneybags fan who hopes to complete his pounds 27m purchase of the club from Noades later this month.
When he apparently financed the purchase of Attilio Lombardo last year, Goldberg was hailed as our answer to Jack Walker. Recent weeks have made some of us not so sure.
Reports that Goldberg may want to move Coppell upstairs and replace him with either Gerry Francis or Terry Venables (no thank you) must have unsettled the team, despite the loyal Coppell's refusal in this week's club programme to blame the side's form on speculation surrounding the future of the club.
Coppell's notes - "This is probably my last chance, and one of the few occasions, to speak about the takeover at Palace" - read depressingly like a valediction, though it is hard to believe he does not have the backing of Noades, who, it seems, would continue to run the club on a day-to-day basis if Goldberg's takeover goes through.
While few would deny Goldberg's right eventually to appoint the manager he wants, this is surely not the time to rock the boat. Right now - with more than a third of the season left and our Premiership future there to be secured or lost - he should be giving unconditional backing to the most successful manager in the club's history, the man who returned to take over a floundering team a year ago and won us promotion, the man who inspired memorable victories at Everton, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Tottenham earlier in the season.
The fact is that Coppell's plans have been wrecked by an appalling catalogue of injuries, although this should hardly have come as a complete surprise after the club started investing heavily in ageing and injury-prone players.
Although we had little time to strengthen the squad after securing promotion via the play-offs last summer and the departure of David Hopkin was a cruel blow, our activity in the transfer market has been bewildering.
Since last summer we have signed only one player who had any previous Premiership experience, Paul Warhurst, who is currently injured (enough said). Apart from him, a staggering sum of around pounds 12m has been spent on other players who had never played in the Premiership: Valerien Ismael, Yitzhak Zohar, Lombardo, Michele Padovano, Kevin Miller, Neil Emblen, Jamie Smith, Herman Hreidarrson, Marcus Bent and Matt Jansen.
Lombardo looked good when fit and Hreidarsson has settled in well, but of the rest the best that can be said is that the jury is still out.
Zohar was so useless that the club released him after buying him for pounds 1.2m less than six months earlier, while Ismael, a club record pounds 2.75m purchase from Strasbourg (struggling at the bottom of the French First Division), was substituted after his woeful "defending" led to all three of Wimbledon's goals on Monday. Emblen, a pounds 2m purchase from Wolves, seems to get into the team only when Coppell has run out of all other options.
The likes of Danny Wilson at Barnsley must be shaking their heads and wondering what they might have done given half the money Palace have spent on players. The supporters, meanwhile, are looking for answers to a number of questions.
Have all this season's new arrivals been bought at the instigation (or even with the approval) of Coppell? When asked recently if he had been trying to buy two particular players (one of whom, Jansen, signed this week) he suggested the question should be addressed to Noades.
Has Big Ron (who, to be fair, knows more about the game than the vast majority of chairmen) gone on a final spending spree, expecting that someone else will eventually pick up the tab?
Has Goldberg - perhaps having decided that if it is going to be his money he might as well buy players he likes - been playing the ultimate game of fantasy football?
Or have Noades and Goldberg been working together, on the basis that they are a better judge of player than a man who played 42 times for England and has been in management for more than 10 years?
Answers on a postcard please to CPFC, c/o the Nationwide League.
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