Newcastle rejection and Manchester United interest prove Hodgson right: Palace fans are being ‘spoiled’

Matt Stead
Dougie Freedman, Michael Olise and Oliver Glasner of Crystal Palace, with the Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Newcastle badges
Few clubs are in better shape than Crystal Palace

Roy Hodgson said Crystal Palace fans were “spoiled” this season. He was accidentally and eventually right about the Premier League’s most exciting team.


Roy Hodgson soon apologised but maybe he was right. Crystal Palace supporters really are being “spoiled”.

Perhaps less so when he made those comments. Palace had just been beaten 2-0 at home by Bournemouth, a defeat which came in the middle of a run of eight winless games to leave them three points clear of a potentially ruinous relegation by Christmas. Only Burnley and Sheffield United had either won fewer games or scored fewer goals.

Hodgson pretended that fans had turned up to Selhurst Park “to see us win”, that they attended with the expectation they “would run all over and blow Bournemouth away”. If they did so, it was contrary to all evidence.

In reality, most went out of obligation. For others, it was blind faith. They just wanted to feel something, to see if the existential crisis could at least be temporarily lifted. But it was only further embedded and the downward trajectory seemed inexorable: those Championship clubs  Crystal Palace had used to identify talents around whom an exciting nucleus could be built were soon to become a little too familiar.

It was a club in disarray. The shots of light through the dark clouds gathering over Selhurst Park were brief and misleading: a 3-1 win over Brentford, immediately after which Arsenal slaughtered them at the Emirates; a 3-2 victory over Sheffield United, followed up with a humiliating defeat to Brighton.

Both those chastening losses featured the mildest of fan protests: the uncorking of boos and unfurling of banners. ‘Wasted potential on and off the pitch. Weak decisions taking us backwards,’ read one. ‘No fight, no pride. Weak leadership at all levels is strangling the Palace spirit. Fans deserve better,’ said another.

Palace were being “spoiled” alright, just not in the way Hodgson meant.

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He stepped down soon after, poor results, dreadful performances and his own health issues prompting a separation which was necessary for all parties, as well as a discourse boiling legitimate supporter frustration down to: ‘But what do Crystal Palace fans actually expect?’.

The mere thought of supporters wanting to see more ambition than reappointing a septuagenarian and finishing between 10th and 15th on anything from 41 to 49 points while embarking on precious few cup runs for ten straight seasons should not have been an alien concept. Palace had stagnated for years while other teams of a similar stature strolled past. They were simply existing as a club.

Gary Lineker was far, far from alone in suggesting “it’s difficult to imagine circumstances where they could conceivably get to European football”. And if anything he was playing it down – at that time it was impossible to conceive. But circumstances change and expectations shift along with them.

Since the date of Oliver Glasner’s first game as manager, only Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea have more points and the top two alone have a better goal difference. For two thirds of the campaign Palace were a Championship club; over the final stretch they were genuine Champions League quality.

The Glasner appointment has crystallised that ‘wasted potential’ fans suspected had been buried deep. Jean-Philippe Mateta did not start a Premier League game until September 30 of a season he finished as the top flight’s most in-form striker. Daniel Munoz is the first right-back on whom Palace have spent actual money since Martin Kelly in August 2014 and he has been excellent. Not since his Derby breakthrough years has Will Hughes been utilised so effectively, having previously been a bit-part player. Nathaniel Clyne has gone from providing cover at full-back to distinguished ball-playing centre-half at 33.

It is a stunning support cast to the main actors. Glasner himself has been transformative. Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze are sensational individually and in tandem. Adam Wharton has multiplied his worth since joining in January. Palace can justify valuing all four of those assets at a minimum of £50m, and that is without mentioning Marc Guehi, Joachim Andersen, Cheick Doucoure and Rob Holding.

The wisdom, finesse and promise of a club outside the elite can often be measured by the interest generated within those closed ranks. Olise is one of this summer’s most coveted players. Eze is not far from that conversation. Paris Saint-Germain have been linked with Mateta; so too Manchester United with Guehi. No club has more players in the provisional England Euros squad than Palace. Newcastle have tried and failed to tempt wonderful sporting director Dougie Freedman north. Glasner has caught the eye of Bayern Munich, which admittedly might not be the stamp of approval it once was.

The folly is in always assuming that these over-performing individuals can simply be plucked from one settled, clear structure which exemplifies their strengths, placed in a more chaotic, confused set-up, and expected to deliver the same results. These players, this coach and the boardroom at Palace is thriving in part because every facet of the club is finally pulling in the same direction. That would not be guaranteed elsewhere and Freedman choosing to stay at Selhurst Park instead of joining the Newcastle project feels particularly significant: Palace is currently the place to be and their trajectory is as exciting as anyone’s.

Football is fickle and that could change in an instant. Palace wanted €100m for Glasner but might sack him if results turn by November. Any number of mitigating factors can affect the form or even career of a player. Freedman’s abnormally high hit-rate of phenomenal Championship signings in particular cannot be maintained forever. Palace are in a brilliant position to push on from but it will require no little luck and a continued move away from those ‘weak decisions’ the fans raged against to keep improving.

And Hodgson’s role should neither be overlooked nor underappreciated. It was unrelentingly uninspiring at times and staying beyond last summer was the wrong call. But without him, Palace would have had no foundations on which to build. He needed to fit the stabilisers to a high-powered vehicle being carefully and quietly constructed in the background. His labour is among the many Palace are currently enjoying the fruits of and being “spoiled” by.

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