The Frank de Boer to Crystal Palace Story
When I was a kid, Guinness ran a memorable advertising campaign – good things comes to those who wait. Was the wait for the new Crystal Palace manager worth it?
On May 23rd, Sam Allardyce became the fifth permanent manager to depart Selhurst Park since the South London Club returned to the Premier League in 2013. When, three weeks later, it still looked like the white plumes of smoke from Tasty Jerk were still far away from puffing, CPFC social media and forums alike were awash with mental breakdowns. Other teams are appointing managers, signing and selling players. Meanwhile, Steve Parish is being pictured on a yacht in God knows what ocean and Jordon Mutch is still a Crystal Palace player.
On Twitter, HLTCO’s count of how many days it had been since Allardyce left, with accompanying GIF, became a daily staple:
On betting sites, the favourite for the job went back and forth between Sean Dyche and Mauricio Pellegrino more than David Carradine’s sex swing, with Frank de Boer joining the party in the latter days with all of them joint favourites at one point at 5/2. With each passing bullshit guesswork article, from a series of journalists that were about as much ‘in the know’ as Theresa May is with the real world, the bookies laughed their way to the bank. The odds had me so convinced that it was going to be Pellegrino at one point, I researched and wrote a 1,000-word article that is now in the [recycle] bin. Facebook mocked the circus of events, suggesting that the new manager would be Mauricio de Dyche:
Oh, and whatever you do, don’t mention that there was yet no sign of a new sponsor (don’t get me started on plumping for a misogynistic sponsor that appears to have not existed before the day that we announced them) or an away kit. The natives were getting restless, and the Palace version of gallows humour was at its very best:
Finally, 29 days after Allardyce disappeared into a never-ending pint glass of wine and presumably £100k a time social appearances, it was clear that Steve Parish and the Americans had decided on their man. Frank de Boer was to be the new manager of Crystal Palace Football Club after an interview in Ibiza, yes Ibiza, had thrust the Dutchman to the top of the list. In true Palace fashion, it took a further five days for the appointment to be made official – presumably, they were all recovering from an Ocean Beach Club followed by DC10 bender.
On the 34th day, "the worst kept secret in football" was revealed as Frank de Boer was officially unveiled as the new manager of Crystal Palace FC. Chris Grierson enjoyed the first interview with the new man in charge - despite his team littering Twitter with pictures of Frank's twin brother Ronald de Boer:
Relief and excitement were the overriding emotions for most, although you can’t please everyone, especially not former Crystal Palace owner Simon Jordan:
"I have to say I am not jumping for joy," said Jordan on TalkSport.
"Over the last three or four seasons, Palace have been able to pluck one of the well thought of, established Premier League managers, in Pulis, Pardew and Allardyce.”
“This would be a complete departure going for a foreign coach and for me, it is quite disappointing, but we are where we are.”
"De Boer – what will he bring? A reputation borne out of the Eredivisie, but when he stepped up to a bigger league, a more competitive league, he came up short."
"Whether Frank de Boer is the right man, coming into a league he has never played in and doesn't really understand, it doesn't fill me with trepidation but also not with a great deal of elation."
This interview riled up FYP’s Rob Sutherland, who burned the ‘Be Careful What You Wish For’ author more than the heatwave that was sweeping the UK:
I must admit that a bit like Simon Jordan, the announcement didn’t immediately make me ‘jump for joy’ as I was relatively naive to his managerial career. I knew that he had success with Ajax, but that is expected, right? I knew that he had been sacked by Inter Milan early doors and I, like many others, took for granted that his time there was a complete failure. When I was a kid, I knew pretty much every player of every Club in England, Scotland, France, Italy, Holland, Germany and so on. Sticker books and an insatiable thirst for any sort of football knowledge does that to many a teenager. Unfortunately, that is next to impossible to maintain into adult life unless one specifically requires the knowledge for a job. So, before jumping all over de Boer, as Jordan did, I took some time out to research his time at Ajax and Inter. It became apparent that his success at Ajax was not to be taken for granted and that his time at Inter can be discarded as the circumstances were far from ideal. He was given no pre-season to work with the Inter squad or sign players that he needed, and it is widely accepted that the hierarchy at Inter is a few pancakes short of a Dutch breakfast.
Giovanni Arnaboldi on Twitter perhaps gave the most insightful account of de Boer’s time at the Nerazzurri:
“He got the job just two weeks before the start of the season, with no time to meet players, sign his targets, settle in a new league or learn the language… I was at [the] San Siro in September when we [Inter] lost 0-2 to Apoel Be’er Sheeva, one of the biggest embarrassments in Inter’s glorious history. For 90 minutes the Nerazzurri played like they didn’t care about the game. You can imagine what we expected the following Sunday when we were hosting Juventus. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, but in those three days Frank de Boer made up a team from absolutely nothing. Since the start of the game we looked like a cohesive unit, and if anyone was to tune in without knowing a thing about Italian football, I’m sure he’d have thought we were top of the league [and not Juventus]… We won 2-1, the best game of football Inter played since the 2010 Champions League Final.”
“Unluckily, de Boer couldn’t hold onto the team in the same way and language must have played a big part. Even though the team was falling to pieces, the majority of fans stood up for the Dutchman (#IoStoConDeBoer – I stand with de Boer) when the Club appointed a new manager, knowing that under different circumstances he could have brought us back in the Champions League.”
I then looked at his time as Ajax manager. In my mind, Ajax won the league every year. Turns out, please excuse my ignorance, that this was far from the case. When de Boer took over in December 2010 and went on to win the Dutch title, it was the first time the Amsterdam Club had topped the division in 7 years. To top that off, he went and won the next three as well, becoming the first ever manager to win four in a row. It is impressive, whichever way one looks at it.
During the final title-winning season, de Boer lost Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld to Spurs and Southampton. The following season, when Ajax finished second, some way off the pace set by PSV, he also lost Daley Blind and Siem de Jong. It is fair to say that this was a season of rebuilding. The following season Ajax would finish second after ending the season with an 18-game unbeaten run, falling just two points short of PSV. However, the final day saw Ajax have ‘one of those days’ as they drew 1-1 with already relegated De Graafschap despite dominating the game. A victory would have handed Ajax the title on goal difference and De Boer resigned off the back of the result. To call his time at Ajax anything but successful would be foolish.
With my research of de Boer’s managerial history complete, my excitement for the appointment started to build. Wrongly tainted by his time at Inter, we appear to have captured a top managerial talent and one that fits the Crystal Palace philosophy. Frank likes to rely on individual skill to unlock teams. With Zaha and Townsend in the ranks, we will undoubtedly stick to playing down the flanks and that will keep the stands happy. With Ajax in his veins, de Boer will look to the Palace Academy for talent and with his willingness to play youngsters, this will mean that the academy will be able to attract the best kids around as they know they have a shot at the first team from a young age. Long term that can only be a good thing. The key words there are ‘long term’.
The opening months of de Boer’s reign are going to be extremely interesting for me, and my mindset is that de Boer is either going to be an unmitigated disaster or the next Malcolm Allison. I see no middle ground. Let me explain.
It is evident that de Boer has only managed teams that are expected to be competing at the top of their respective divisions. This means that they are teams that are likely to enjoy large amounts of possession whilst playing against teams that are prepared to give it to them. He also only played for teams like that - Ajax, Barcelona, Galatasaray and Rangers. He knows no different. At Palace, certainly in the early stages, he will need to allow something different into his mentality. Therefore, I expect the early stages to be a little rocky. The players will be trying to interpret de Boer’s ideas, while de Boer will be having to learn hard and fast about the Premier League. He has been very wise indeed in keeping Sammy Lee on board – it is also nice to see that he went to Ronald Koeman for advice on Lee. That would suggest an absence of ego that has been so omnipotent in our past few managers.
Whatever changes de Boer makes will be a hard sell. We all jumped on Alan Pardew for attempting a “transition” in playing styles. Sure, it was a disaster, but it is ingrained in our psyches that we must play on the counter in a very direct fashion. I am not saying this is wrong. In fact, the stats back up that this is the ideal plan of attack for us. The graph below shows that the highest league position that we have gained in the last four seasons was when we had next to no possession and, quite frankly, awful pass accuracy. Meanwhile, out worst league finish saw us enjoy the most possession that we have had a by far the best pass accuracy stats that we have managed. De Boer will be attempting to fundamentally change the everything about the way we play by altering the lines in the below graph:
Therefore during the opening months of the season, we need to stick with it. We need to cleanse our psyches. Now, we may get off to a storming start. Huddersfield at home and Liverpool away, especially based on recent history, could easily yield six points. Or, the players might be slow on the uptake of de Boer’s ideas and the opening games yields zero points. The worst-case scenario is that we lose to Huddersfield after having had 60% possession before heading to Anfield and winning with 30% possession with a blistering display of counterattacking football. Whichever way around it is, we need to appreciate that this is a longer-term project. Talk of the academy, the progression of the playing style and the potential of the Club have been bounded around by both de Boer and Parish this week. To blink before Christmas if things are not going immediately to plan would be a mistake. If we do blink and he is fired in the first year, then the appointment was an unmitigated disaster. If de Boer can get through the season and keep us in the Premier League, he will have a chance to infect the Club with his ideas and be the most influential manager in the Club’s history since Allison [hopefully without the successive relegations]. Assuming, of course, that a huge Club doesn’t come and give him an offer that he cannot refuse on the back of his potential success as Palace manager.
I love moments like this in time as a Crystal Palace fan. Admittedly, these moments have practically all ended up in disappointment as yet another false dawn collapses around our ears, but I am not going to let that quell my excitement now. I now have for exactly what I wanted when Allardyce was installed. Sam kept us up, he has moved on and we have installed a young manager with fresh ideas that have the potential to take us to the next level in the way that we would all want it. By playing the kids and putting an emphasis on individual skill down the flanks. What could possibly go wrong?
So, harking back to the Guinness advertising from my childhood - yes, good things do come to those who wait, I think.
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