Steve Parish made mistakes but Frank de Boer failed to win over Crystal Palace's hierarchy or squad - he had to go

The Eagles' biggest mistake may have been obsessing over finding a long-term manager in a time when it isn't necessarily a vital component of success

Ed Malyon
Sports Editor
Monday 11 September 2017 17:28
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If ever a picture summed up a managerial reign, this would be it
If ever a picture summed up a managerial reign, this would be it

The Frank de Boer era at Crystal Palace qualifies as a failure for all parties.

That is even by the admission of chairman and co-owner Steve Parish, who said earlier this summer that “every time a manager fails at this club I fail. If Frank fails it is my failure too.”

Roy Hodgson will become Palace’s ninth different manager, excluding serial caretaker Keith Millen, since Parish first arrived at his boyhood club in 2010 and it is stats like these which will be used as a stick to beat the former advertising mogul with. You can take any number of his quotes from De Boer’s unveiling and it will look bad. Even the drawn-out process to hire De Boer, taking five weeks out of their summer, now comes across as a waste of time rather than a considered approach.

And while you can criticise Parish all you want - and there are, on today of all days, plenty of valid reasons to do so - it is important to remember (and a damning indictment of generations of Palace owners) that he is not just the club’s chairman but he is the best chairman they have had in recent memory. Indeed, Palace are in the top flight for a fifth-consecutive season, the longest spell in their history. They’ve gone through a lot of coaches to do that but it remains the case that Parish has presided over something never before possible for a club more used to life in the second tier.

Steve Parish will be criticised, but with the club and squad unconvinced by De Boer he had to act 

Perhaps his biggest mistake in choosing De Boer in the first place was this obsession with finding a long-term answer in a world no longer conducive to that approach.

It undoubtedly would have made Parish’s life easier to not have to go on another search for a manager, having done so a number of times already since assuming control of the club’s footballing operations. But for mid-table clubs it is almost certain you will be cycling through short-to-medium-term coaches ad infinitum unless you either solidly progress to the upper reaches of the Premier League or you fall into the Championship.

That is a symptom of the Premier League’s financial might, that if you are worried about the drop you will sack your manager but if that coach does well there is always a bigger fish ready to take him away.

Marco Silva, a former Palace target after impressing at Hull, is enjoying his start to life with Watford but there is the knowing inevitability that if things go ‘too well’ for the Hornets then Silva will not be in the job long. This is the reality for mid-to-lower-table Premier League clubs now. You can try and be different and have a coach for five years but you are more than likely going to fail in that quest – be it through underperformance or overperformance.

But going back to De Boer himself, the crux of the issue is that, for all the good intent in hiring Frank, as soon as they got him in the building it became clear that the fit wasn’t quite right.

Immediately some senior players turned against him, players who happened not to be in his plans, but De Boer’s biggest problem turned out to be that these players had the ear of the chairman who, in turn, ensured they weren’t sold.

Damien Delaney was not in De Boer’s plans, who wanted him gone, but Parish did not want to sell or release a player who has formed a key part of the dressing room and club in general since being convinced not to retire by Dougie Freedman back in 2012. It created friction.

Martin Kelly was not deemed good enough and reacted badly while Joel Ward was deemed too slow to play at wing-back but failed to adapt to being a central defender. Delaney and Kelly were deemed only to be fringe players by the Dutchman but their displeasure with De Boer’s reign got back to Parish and fellow senior officials – which combined with his somewhat ‘cold’ manner, begin to paint a picture of trouble even very early in De Boer’s reign.

The Dutchman feels his ‘direct’ approach was misinterpreted, possibly a cultural clash, but the players’ apparent haste to go running to the headteacher immediately damaged the relationship between coach and players. Likewise, the former Ajax and Inter boss was made aware of cliques in the squad who had been upset by him playing in training, something that baffled De Boer as, if anything, professionals should be motivated at being shown up by a retiree more than 10 years their senior in many cases rather than threatened by it.

De Boer was not concerned in principle by the hiring of Dougie Freedman as sporting director but felt that a former manager of the club coming in just a week before the end of the transfer window while the coach was enduring a difficult start boded poorly for his chances. De Boer backed himself to succeed at Palace despite getting lukewarm messages back, but the biggest sign that he had no job security was when a friend asked him in the wake of the Swansea defeat whether he would be staying in charge and he simply answered “I don’t know.”

Palace had yet to win this season under De Boer, and defeat at Burnley was the final straw 

Yet all these details viewed from both sides demonstrate only one thing, that Palace probably had no choice but to get rid because the players and hierarchy were already deeply unconvinced. De Boer's meeting with Freedman and Parish on August 28 did not exactly go to plan and both sides left it frustrated but hoping that the week’s transfers would fix things. An unsatisfactory end to the window ensured the mutual distrust would continue.

But that is the reason you can’t draw comparisons with Alan Pardew’s drawn-out end, where he was given far too much time, nor Sam Allardyce’s tough start to life at Selhurst Park, where he failed to win in his first six games despite De Boer only getting four.

Pardew was hard for Parish to sack because they were friends and they had enjoyed success together. They knew how each other worked and while there were the inevitable disagreements, it was a fruitful working relationship and that’s why Pardew was given so long to turn things around. Allardyce, of course, was Palace’s last chance and eventually repaid the faith the hierarchy always had in him by keeping the Eagles up. De Boer counted on no such personal bond with anyone high up at the club and he and his assistant, Orlando Trustfull, found Palace’s training ground a place that wasn’t full of trust at all – not even close.

Once the contracts are signed, Palace have two years of Roy Hodgson in which they must also start searching for their next coach. Hiring a sporting director is designed to help the club maintain the same course and not be overly affected by departures of coaches or anyone else, á la Southampton. It’s about longer-term consistency, and Freedman should already be considering and scouting who the club might consider in 2019 when Hodgson is 72 and his contract has expired.

Palace’s best-case scenario for the short-to-medium-term future is that they can survive in the Premier League every year. The academy is in desperate need of upgraded facilities on a purpose-built site and the training ground needs work too. The stadium, most obviously, is also something that has to be upgraded.

Whether that reality, of uninspiring stagnation, is enthusing or invigorating for football fans who crave glory above all else remains a different point entirely, but for the financial health of Crystal Palace football club they must stay in the Premier League and build the club steadily from the league’s immense riches.

The next step in that building process will take place under Hodgson’s stewardship, but the club must already be looking beyond that and, ideally, learning from past failures.

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