If the new manager can bring the same level of respect and depth of admiration that their predecessor, Ian Holloway, showed during his dignified departure from the club then he would have an extremely strong platform from which to rebuild the crumbling edifice that is Crystal Palace FC. It is hard to remember such an amicable and respectful split in these days of ‘quickies’ when managerial reigns are measured in months rather than years.
Over the previous five years Sam Allardyce is the only man left standing, being in charge of the team with which he gained promotion. Going up via the Play-Offs is often a poisoned chalice whereby the weakest of the promoted clubs have less time to prepare for life at the top table but Allardyce has made it thus far. Steve Parish, Palace chairman, pointed out that Holloway had just five days off in between that Wembley triumph over Watford (which appears a distant memory less than six months on) and the massive task of assembling a squad ready to survive the Premier League. The fact that during his five day ‘break’ he was in contact with Parish every day gives a clue as to why Ollie was lacking his characteristic effervescence recently as Palace slipped to seven defeats from eight games and he ended up walking away, head held high but a beaten man.
So which masochist is next in line to pop their bum on the slippery Selhurst downwards slide? There are a whole host of names willing and possibly able to tackle the Herculean task of being the first Palace manager to keep them in the Premier League beyond the standard single season. Four previous attempts have foundered on the rocks of relegation, if this is to be fifth time lucky who is the right man for the job? It is probably best to try and group the candidates into a couple of discrete units, which is a bit like attempting to herd cats or alternatively getting the Palace defence to stop leaking goals at corners. But here we go.
Group I – Managers with Prem experience who are currently available/ looking for a job/ bored of being on the sidelines and yearn to be on THE sideline:
One of Holloway’s weaknesses was his lack of managing a club at the top level. His year with Blackpool in 2009/10 was, as befits the UK’s most traditional seaside holiday resort, a rollicking rollercoaster ride, which ended in a typically entertaining high-scoring defeat at Old Trafford. Parish has said the ideal candidate will be someone ‘who has been there and done it’ and almost immediately Tony Pulis was pulled out of the hat or possibly, baseball cap.
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Pulis built his reputation with Stoke. As a club, they had underperformed for many years (tick), had a huge potential audience (tick) and some of the most vocal fans in the country (tick). His record of never being relegated as a manager appeals but his style did not. Enough has been written about Stoke’s modus operandi already so no need to go into the finer details again. Suffice to say, having seem them play Palace this January in an FA Cup 3rd Round match that ended 0-0 I would rather put pins in my eyes than watch the WWF tag team down at Selhurst. As of Thursday 24th October, it seems as though Pulis may have ruled himself out of contention ‘having looked at Palace’s current position’. Enough said we need a fighter who is willing to take on an almighty responsibility, not someone whose idea of a challenge is locating the new Rory Delap.
At the other end of the style spectrum to Pulis sits Roberto di Matteo, suave, sophisticated, the archetypal Italian. RdM (it is now de rigueur to use a 3 three letter acronym wherever possible) has a pretty impressive cv with an FA Cup and the little matter of 2011 Champions League tucked into his tracky bottoms. Mind you having secured Chelsea’s only victory in Europe’s top competition less than a year after taking over from the original 3 letter acronym, AVB he was discarded by RRR - rich, ruthless Roman. Now as a Palace fan and someone who rather likes what RdM stands for, I am seduced by the notion of him as our man but even I have to admit he may be over-qualified. It is akin to someone applying for a job with Chicken Cottage (other shonky restaurant chains are available) having been the maitre d’ at Carluccio’s. So I suspect that is a non-antipasti also it should be recognised that he has never seen out a full Premier League season either with West Brom or Chelsea, so experience is not his middle name.
After Pulis and Di Matteo there are some wild cards, the wildest I have heard mentioned is Roy Keane. Yet again Keane’s Premier League credentials are limited to a typically turbulent reign at Sunderland with a season and a half at the helm. One thing that would be in Keane’s favour is that the players would never be less than 100% committed otherwise they would have to face the Wrath of Keane, which is just a degree worse than the Wrath of Khan. But I think we should leave Roy and his brooding menace with Adrian Chiles and his cohorts.
What Palace really need is some tough love and the other principal grouping of likely candidates is ideally placed to help. The ‘I have a strong connection with Palace, understand the molecular structure of the club and will help us bring about a remarkable renaissance’ set. Names include a gaggle of ex-managers and we have plenty of those as in the last twenty tears Palace have racked up an unlikely, unlucky 13 since 1993. From the hardy perennial “Sir” Steve Coppell who could he be up for his fifth (yes fifth) stint as manager, through the evergreen, Neil Warnock who upped sticks during the club’s most recent brush with administration, and finally on to the man who pulled off a rather accurate impression of J. Iscariot this time last year when being drawn by the allure of Bolton (and quadrupling his income), Mr D. Freedman.
Alongside the exes there are plenty of illustrious alumni whose main credentials are being fan favourites such as Wright & Bright, Popovic, Salako and even Southgate but most of these are choices of the heart and their undoubted enthusiasm and love for the club do not outweigh their lack of real credentials. In CPFC 2010, we are very fortunate to have four co-owners who combine genuine affection for the club with some serious cash and the know-how of running successful businesses. I have every confidence that they will make the best appointment.
It is one of football’s strange ironies that people who are extremely successful in business make a complete and utter horlicks of running a football club and being Palace we have had our fair share of horlicks-making maestros, present company excepted. Mark Goldberg, whose naivety led him to trust Terry Venables; Simon Jordan who saw his mobile millions disappear in a haze of fake tan and flowing blond locks; Ron Noades who was in it for… Ron Noades
For the umpteenth time we find ourselves staring into the abyss that is the yawning chasm between the Premier League and The Championship, Palace must take a deep breath and find the football equivalent of Red Adair. As the selection process gets underway I have two contrasting quotes rattling around in my befuddled brain. Alexander Pope’s “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread” and Elvis Presley “Wise men say only fools rush in but I can’t help falling in love with you”. Whither CPFC 2010 I know not but here’s praying.