Told before the start of the transfer window that midfielders Yohan Cabaye, Xherdan Shaqiri and Dmitri Payet (creator of most chances in any major European league last season) would be joining Premier League clubs, few would have guessed Crystal Palace, Stoke City and West Ham United as their respective destinations.
Shaqiri, formerly with Bayern Munich and Internazionale, and the star of Switzerland’s World Cup campaign, was even accused by professional controversialist Stefan Effenberg of having gone to Stoke “for the money”, which must be a first for the Potteries club.
Yet Palace’s manager Alan Pardew, thrilled to be reunited with Cabaye after reluctantly seeing him leave Newcastle for Paris Saint-Germain 18 months ago, believes signings like those by middle-ranking English clubs are merely another illustration of the Premier League’s prestige and, yes, financial muscle.
Stuck in the relegation places as “Auld Lang Syne” rang out and Pardew took over, the south London club rose to finish 10th, earning more than £74million in merit money and broadcast rights.
Talking in the new media theatre at a once ramshackle Selhurst Park before taking a training session on the new pitch ahead of today’s game at home to Arsenal, the manager said: “TV money has helped the club grow very, very quickly. And the coverage of the Premier League is so worldwide now that players know that coming to a Stoke or a Crystal Palace or a West Ham is really high-profile, perhaps as high as some of the top Italian and Spanish clubs. The signing of Yohan was a benchmark and if he can come here then any world-class player can come here.”
However keen they are for playing time as well as a share of the next broadcasting bonanza in a year’s time, players still want a certain level of facilities, which is why Pardew is delighted that the directors have put money into an upgrade of the whole club as well as improved wages – possibly as high as £65,000 a week in some cases.
“It’s important now that we try and grow as a club, not just as a team. We have to look at the stadium at some point, the academy and potential improvements there. But the pitch is fantastic this year and the training ground is now Premier League standard.
“Our medical facilities have improved dramatically since my arrival. So we’ve made some improvements with a direct impact on the first team this year – although that won’t be the same every year.”
Those happy enough with what they saw to join the club included goalkeeper Alex McCarthy and attacking players Patrick Bamford (Championship Player of the Year), Bakary Sako and (to some raising of eyebrows) an expensive Connor Wickham.
Among those who did not start last week’s 3-1 win at Norwich for one reason or another were Yannick Bolasie, Marouane Chamakh, former captain Mile Jedinak, Joe Ledley, Fraizer Campbell, Dwight Gayle, Brede Hangeland and Julian Speroni.
It all leads Pardew to believe that the mid-table clubs can creep a little closer to the better- resourced top half-dozen. “When you get injuries to key players, the top clubs can replace like-for-like and we can’t quite do that. That’s where we are going to fall down. But on a given day with your best XI against their best XI there’s not a lot in it.
“I think there’s belief in our squad that if Arsenal come here we can beat them if we can produce our best performance. Within this particular group with the type of players we have we can hurt any team and if you can score goals you can win, even if the other team have 65 per cent of possession. We can beat the top teams on occasion, but it’s the other teams where the pressure’s on us to win that’s where we’ve tried to grow a little bit: those games like the West Broms and Stokes and Swanseas at home – have we got enough to beat them on a consistent basis?”
If Palace can do that, a season of comfortable consolidation should lie ahead. Optimists among the flag-waving Holmesdale Road ultras may even be dreaming of Europe, although Pardew is concerned that the Thursday-Sunday treadmill endured by Europa League teams makes it a dubious reward.
“We all want to have the great profile which European football gives you. But it’s just not fair on Premier League teams to play Thursday night and Sunday. We can’t do it at the level and intensity that we play. Every manager keeps saying it and nothing is done. Uefa needs to look at it and the Premier League needs to fight for us. If they want it on Thursday night for TV then we should play the [following] Premier League game on Monday night.”
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