Can Crystal Palace afford to stick and not twist to stay in the Premier League?
Eagles chairman Steve Parish will stand by Wembley heroes but he knows investment is needed
The dressing room door opens, the chairman bursts in, he beams at his celebrating players. Then he says: "Well done lads, with the money we've made today I can go out and buy some better players."
It's one of those apocryphal stories which was probably true once, but it was not repeated at Wembley on Monday. Crystal Palace co-owner Steve Parish's message to the players who had taken the south London club into the Premier League was "we'll give you a chance – you've earned it".
Parish pointed to the post-promotion success of Norwich, Swansea and Southampton, noting "they've really stuck with a lot of the players that got them there. The clubs that have gone out and gone mad tend to lose that team ethic."
Up to a point. Of the last three teams promoted through the play-offs the one which stood by the Wembley heroes most was Blackpool, who were subsequently relegated. This will not be lost on Palace boss Ian Holloway, who was their manager.
Seven of the Blackpool side who defeated Cardiff City in 2010 started at least half the next season's 38 Premier League games. It would have been more but for injury to keeper Matthew Gilks. Six of the Swansea team which won the play-off final the following year were fixtures in the top flight while only four of last year's ascendants, West Ham, started half the matches.
The Hammers kept much of the team relegated in 2011, gambling on bouncing back, but still went out and spent around £20m with their recruits including six players who would be regulars last season: James Collins, Mohamed Diamé, Matt Jarvis, Joey O'Brien, Jussi Jaaskelainen (the only signing made to replace a departing player) and, on loan, Andy Carroll.
West Ham's net investment was around £18m, double that of Swansea a year earlier and far in excess of Blackpool's £5m net spend. Their reward was a 10th-place finish. Palace are likely to spend as much as West Ham, in part because the new TV deal means they receive a minimum £60m next season, but primarily because they will need to. Parish, while insisting "the first thing we need to do is to keep the nucleus of our side together", admitted "obviously we've got to add to the squad".
Goalkeeper Julian Speroni and holding midfielders Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacoi look capable of playing in the top flight. There is youthful promise in Jonathan Williams. Jonathan Parr, Yannick Bolasie, Joel Ward and Damien Delaney may be able to step up. But Palace are short of pace in defence and bereft in attack.
Wilfried Zaha, who scored both goals in the play-off semi-final against Brighton, and was brought down for the penalty that won the final, now leaves for Manchester United – at least his £10m fee can be added to Palace's coffers. Leading scorer Glenn Murray is injured and unlikely to return before 2014. And for all Holloway's compliments about play-off match-winner Kevin Phillips, no one should seriously expect a player who will be 40 when the season starts, and last played in the top flight in 2010-11 (scoring once) to be more than an impact substitute.
Palace fans have been talking about the club's latent potential ever since 51,000 squeezed into Selhurst Park to watch Terry Venables' team win promotion three decades ago, and the noise and fervour of their support at Wembley underlined this. However, the Eagles have been instantly relegated on the three times they have been promoted to the Premier League and after years of under-investment Selhurst bears a tatty appearance.
Holloway spoke of using promotion to facilitate a new ground, but suitable locations are fiendishly difficult to find in the tight streets and railway lines of the club's south London heartland. Palace may need to move further and while that may upset many fans, it was obvious at Wembley that the Palace support no longer reflects the ethnic make-up of Selhurst's environs.
Such considerations are for the long-term. For now Palace must focus on prolonging their latest visit to the top flight beyond 10 months. Holloway will be besieged by agents promising their players is 'the one' he needs. Much will depend on his judgement, and the preparedness of Parish and partners Steve Browett and Martin Long to back him without putting at risk a club that was in administration and facing relegation to the third tier just three years ago.
Stepping up: How winners fared
Premier League appearances made in the following season by the play-off winning XI (from a maximum of 38 games):
Gilks 18; Coleman 0 (loan ended), Baptiste 19+2 as substitute, Evatt 36+1, Crainey 31; Vaughan 35, Southern 11+10, Adam 34+1; Ormerod 6+13, Campbell 30+1, Taylor-Fletcher 29+2.
2011: Swansea City
De Vries 0 (moved to Wolves); Rangel 32+2, Monk 14+2, Williams 37, Tate 1+4; Britton 35+1, Allen 31+5; Dyer 29+5, Dobbie 2+6, Sinclair 35+3; Borini 0 (loan ended).
2012: West Ham United
Green 0 (moved to QPR); Demel 28+3, Reid 36, Tomkins 18+8, Taylor 14+14; Collison 5+12, Noble 25+3, Nolan 35, O'Neil 17+7, Vaz Te 18+6; C Cole 14+13.
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