After a few very turbulent seasons, all is quiet on the Palace front, writes James Daly…
Too quiet if you ask me. Indeed, it’s unusual for the Eagles not to be going into a season in panic mode; be it the looming threat of financial doom, ongoing transfer sagas or managerial problems. No, everything is rather subdued at Selhurst Park this summer. And I don’t like it!
Last season started with plenty of action; Palace rose to sixth after a blistering start, which included becoming the first league team to win at rivals Brighton’s new stadium. That was a moment good enough to last for years, especially as our new striker Glenn Murray scored the third and final goal on his return to the Seagulls having signed for Palace just months before.
A little later, there was the spectacular League Cup quarter-final win at Manchester United, where Darren Ambrose scored the greatest goal ever seen on a football pitch, as he blasted one into the top corner from about 7,983 yards. It was a bloody brilliant start to the season, but things didn’t last. Come 2012 progress petered out like a lazy bonfire and we finished in 17th place, playing some turgid football, in front of a half empty stadium. Not what we had expected after the first few months of the season.
It’s not our style to see out a campaign with nothing to play for and with little drama on or off the pitch; usually there is a relegation battle, a promotion race, or some impending financial meltdown to keep the heart-rate up.
But the end of last season, and the beginning of this, has been unseasonably quiet. No drama. No fretting. Nothing. The only time Palace fans have risen from their non-football induced slumber was to denounce the sale of Ambrose to Birmingham City, but even then it was more because it was something to do, rather than mass collective anger. Once the dust had settled it was widely agreed that the midfielder’s best years were behind him and, save for a spectacular goal or two, he didn’t really offer that much to the team on a regular basis.
So here we are, the season about to start, and there isn’t much to talk about. Just last weekend I recorded the first podcast of the season for my Palace fanzine Five Year Plan with comedian Kevin Day and the rest of my pod team, and we spent most of the time talking about the Olympics. That’s how little there is to talk about. In fact, I can categorise the biggest talking points as follows:
- The new kit – designed by a Palace fan and in the style of Barcelona with broad red and blue stripes and yellow trim. The consensus amongst Eagles fans? Sexy.
- The new Elite Player Performance Plan, where young players can be nicked for cheap. Consensus? Not sexy.
- Dougie Freedman making a cameo against Dulwich Hamlet in a friendly. Consensus? Call my wife, I’m not coming home.
Yes, the best moment so far this new season has been Eagles boss Freedman – a former Palace striker who scored more than 100 goals for the club and was loved by all – bringing himself on for the final 10 minutes at Dulwich, among a youthful team, and promptly setting up 16-year-old Reise Allassani for Palace’s second of the night. Not only that, he nutmegged the defender as he did so. His cameo was so classy he didn’t lose the ball once and bossed the game for the final few minutes. In fact, seeing as Palace haven’t really signed a goalscorer yet, we could do a lot worse than buying The Doog a new pair of boots and telling him to play up front.
My personal highlight of pre-season, aside from Dougie’s appearance, obviously, was sneaking into the press box at Aldershot for Palace’s 2-0 win. But ever the professional, instead of making notes during the game for a decent post-match report for the FYP site, I spent 90 minutes thinking up Anchorman puns for trialist Jose Baxter and tweeting them out. To be fair, even in my former days as a proper football journalist when I would visit the likes of White Hart Lane and Stamford Bridge, I still would do the same thing.
Palace’s biggest departure (not literally, he’s pretty tiny) was Nathaniel Clyne, who left for Southampton after rejecting a new deal at Selhurst, and reportedly Manchester United. The young full-back had made his intentions clear that he would leave the Eagles this summer, with Palace fans’ only worry being where to and how much we’d get. He is the latest off the Palace production line, and the club were keen to get the compensation they deserved for unearthing and polishing such a talent.
With a reported deal of £3m done everyone is happy, especially as he clearly chose Saint Mary’s for the regular first team football and, as much as we get disappointed by players leaving, we want to see our home grown boys do well, and there’s a strong chance Clyne could well become a regular fixture at right-back for Southampton, and move on to greater things. Maybe even a full England cap. He’s certainly good enough.
And where Clyne came from there are plenty others; mercurial midfielder Jonny Williams is expected to make this season his own, left-winger Kyle De Silva will get more time, left-back Matty Parsons looks more of a man every game, and there are plenty others. Expect Allassani, Jack Holland and Gus Sow to make appearances too. The Palace academy continues to churn out stars and if nothing else, we can always be proud of that.
And then there is Wilf Zaha, our tricky winger-cum-striker who, if you believe the football press, is wanted by every club in the world ever. He’s certainly a talent, and with Freedman indicating Wilf will play more of a forward role this season, if he scores enough goals he’ll almost certainly leave next summer for a big price. And again, Palace fans would be frustrated, but content. Since the John Bostock saga, we’re happy to see our local boys put in a few seasons of hard graft in red and blue and really earn a transfer to the big time. And earn Palace some decent pennies.
So what of this season? Expectations amongst fans are always, for some reason, high. Any other team that finished 17th last season would be gearing up for a campaign with mid-table safely in their sights, but not Palace. Fans are already talking about where we will finish in the play-offs and how many days they should take off from work in late May to celebrate promotion. Ok, not quite, but there will be plenty of discontent and pressure on Freedman if we don’t, at least once, look like play-off contenders.
Which is harsh. Really we should be aiming at sneaking into the top 10 but should not be unhappy with a mid-table finish. Freedman is part of a long-term project at Palace and this is just his second full season in charge. Progress has been there, slow admittedly, but evident; 21st in his first season (where he took over from the hapless George Burley in January 2011) and 17th last season. Top 10 this campaign would be well on plan.
But it comes down to one thing, transfers. We are just a few days away from the start of the season and still Freedman is looking to add, in his words, a new right-winger, a left-winger and a striker. So basically, a whole attacking set. The only arrivals so far have been Joel Ward from Portsmouth for £400,000, Aaron Martin on loan from Southampton and Aaron Wilbraham and Peter Ramage on free transfers from Norwich and QPR. The former three, signed well ahead of the beginning of the campaign, have looked solid in pre-season and will be good acquisitions, but the question remains: where are the others?
Palace’s squad numbers for this season had no 7, 9 or 11 indicating Freedman sees some new faces arriving between now and Saturday but the longer they don’t the more disjointed our team is. We’ve had countless trialists come and go, including the aforementioned Baxter who is still “training” with Palace, according to Freedman, but won’t be offered a deal. Dougie is famous for his poker face so we’ll see about that one.
In conclusion, a few new faces could help Palace to a top 10 finish, and aid the continuation of our progress of the last couple of seasons under Freedman. The team is good enough to do well in this division and if not, well better get those boots on, Doog.