If this is going to be the end of Crystal Palace’s Frank de Boer experiment, there could be no more fitting final nail in the coffin than a catastrophic back pass from Lee Chung-Yong causing another defeat. A player that shouldn’t be there doing something he shouldn’t have been doing.
Chung-Yong is not the only one to blame, of course. The South Korean has been largely dreadful since arriving from Bolton Wanderers in January 2015, starting ten league games in two-and-a-half years. But his presence in the starting XI is a symptom, not the cause, of this disease.
Palace’s latest villain should be nowhere near this team. He is far below the quality required, and yet what other options did De Boer have? Play Jeffrey Schlupp as a wide forward and Patrick van Aanholt as a left-back? Give Sulley Kaikai his first ever Premier League start in a must-not-lose match? Why not go for….oh, that’s it actually.
This is a squad decimated by injuries and incompetent recruitment. Palace allowed Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce to spend £135m and then gave De Boer two loan players, a 20-year-old defender and a £26m signing that his predecessor brought to the club.
De Boer’s failure will harm his own CV, but it should do the same to Palace’s reputation too. Who agrees to take over this mess? Roy Hodgson is the odds-on favourite to succeed De Boer, but Steve Parish insisted that Palace needed a long-term option three months ago. What better strategy than to appoint the second oldest manager in the country? Palace are like a dozy bluebottle trying to find the open window, repeatedly bumping into the same glass.
It is impossible not to mock a culture that leads to this type of decision. I wrote a piece this week about Palace’s unsuccessful quest for long-termism, undermined by their own actions. What better example could there be of that thoughtlessness than making it clear to a manager that he would be sacked if he failed to gain a positive result in an upcoming match? If under-performing players were not feeling the pressure before, those stories only made it worse. Like that infamous Black Mirror pig episode, we switched on to witness the debacle unfold live.
The statistics are not good for De Boer. Palace are the only team in England’s top four divisions yet to score a goal, and have lost each of their four league matches to sit bottom of the Premier League. It has been 93 years since a team in the top flight lost their opening four games without scoring.
Yet watching this latest defeat, it was impossible not to feel sorry for the manager. De Boer switched Palace’s defensive shape to a flat back four and saw his side out-pass and outplay Burnley in midfield. They ended the game with 23 shots to Burnley’s four. If De Boer’s short-term future depends on the performance as well as the result, he should have bought himself a little more time. It may only be a brief stay of execution.
Not content with shooting themselves in one foot, Palace then performed a more extended version of the same trick when hunting for an equaliser. Christian Benteke – in wretched form – missed two presentable headed chances and Schlupp blazed over from 12 yards, but the award for poor finishing could only go to Scott Dann. Heading wide from barely three yards, De Boer watched on in stunned disbelief.
Palace’s manager was at pains to point out in his post-match press conference that his side played in a different style to the one he usually prefers. They attempted 24 crosses from open play, plenty of them from deep, and were not afraid to go direct to Benteke. For a man accused of a steadfast commitment to Totaalvoetbal, this was a distinctly pragmatic approach.
Yet this is precisely the issue De Boer faces amidst the ludicrously short timescales in which he is operating. A manager with a defined playing style and philosophy has been forced to change system 30 days after his first match in order to meet the immediate requirements of his club. How can abandoning his core principles be conducive to his longer-term success at Selhurst Park?
The stories about confusing tactics may have dried up, but De Boer knows the ridiculous score. There will soon be a gaggle of pundits to tell you why this means that foreign managers should not be given a chance, as if they are one coagulated mess rather than a hundred different personalities and styles from a score of different countries and cultures. That’s just the way it is.
Crystal Palace have now taken 54 points from their last 63 league matches under three different managers. Removing Frank de Boer may cause another spike in performance that ultimately secures this club’s Premier League status, but do not confuse that with sustainable progression. Harmony does not live here anymore.