Is Steve Parish’s managerial approach to Crystal Palace sustainable?
It took 77 days; Frank De Boer departs Palace in controversial circumstances, victim to the muddled thinking of chairman and part-shareholder Steve Parish.
Parish, the suave businessman who led a consortium that saved the south London club from administration in 2010, has done what all football chairman should never do: he’s made himself the centre of attention in the press.
His apologists would argue that his leadership has been undoubtedly successful. Palace have gone from the brink of extinction, to an established Premier League side with an impressively competitive squad.
But his critics would argue that his methods have been illogical, and Palace’s rise under his stewardship has been extremely fortunate, brought about from the merits of others, as opposed to himself.
Parish’s turbulent reign can be epitomised by his volatility in dismissing managers. In 2013-14, the club’s first year in the top flight, Ian Holloway was the league’s second managerial departure. In 2014-15 Neil Warnock was the first. In 2016-17 Alan Pardew was the second.
Between these managerial fatalities, Tony Pulis rightly won manager of the year for an inexplicable turn around. Pardew came in after Warnock at Christmas, winning seven of his last 12 games. Sam Allardyce completed the cycle again last season, replacing Pardew, by like Pulis, pulling off a remarkable run of results.
After five years of managerial boom and bust, this perpetual Parish cycle shows Palace’s managers either fail to adhere to his high standards and get sacked, or out-do themselves and succeed for long enough to decide they would rather not work for him.
It’s leading to a cyclical run of ‘short-termism’, where change is rife and consistency blighted. De Boer is the latest victim of this approach. The Dutchman, like Pardew, was brought into create this idealistic and unobtainable style of attacking football.
Born from the possession based principles of Johan Cruyff, Louis Van Gaal and Ajax, De Boer needed time if this was going to work. Giving a foreign manager a team crafted for the pragmaticism of the Premier League’s most famous defensive coaches was like mixing oil with water.
Only time would have allowed this project to work, which begs the question as to what on earth the point on hiring De Boer was. Ex-Palace player John Salako made this point in a recent interview, explaining that De Boer could change the team’s style, but ‘not too quickly’, with the initial priority being to get results.
Palace weren’t actually that bad under him. Granted, their opening 0-3 home defeat to Huddersfield was chastening, but they could easily have forced a result at Anfield, a game they lost 0-1, and should have beaten Burnley comfortably in his final game. A breakdown of where those games went wrong could be attributed to basic individual defensive errors, as opposed to systematic managerial shortcomings.
Regardless, the overwhelming problem lies in Parish’s intent. While models of ‘short termism’ can be successful (Watford are an extremely interesting example of this), the differentiator with Palace is that Parish isn’t planning for this to happen year on year.
And there is a good argument to suggest that playing attractive football isn’t a viable strategy for a club of Palace’s stature. Even if a manager does manage to pull it off, which is unlikely, they will likely be poached by a bigger club (think Mauricio Pochettino to Spurs, Marco Silva to Watford, Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool), and if they fail, they’ll be sacked.
It’s runs parallel to Sunderland’s recent cycle of hiring and firing, pulling off remarkable turn relegation survivals. The Black Cats went through a similar spell, with Paolo Di Canio, Gus Poyet, and Dick Advocaat all pulling off remarkable end of season turn arounds. Sunderland now reside in the Championship: there’s only so many times an incoming manager can bail a team out.
In all, since Christmas 2015, Palace have now picked up 54 points from 63 games, the 91st lowest out of all 92 teams in the football league. Roy Hodgson, the last English pragmatist, has been called into save Parish again, but the 70 year old certainly won’t be around long enough to establish any long term change.
Ultimately, Parish’s model is wholly unsustainable, and Palace will eventually be relegated if their myopic chairman fails to reform.