As the Premier League season approaches, IAN LAMONT assesses Palace’s summer signings
When Crystal Palace signed Jose Campana from Sevilla, the wags on social media were quick to comment.
By wags, I don’t mean the wives and girlfriends. The Eagles might now be flying high in the Premier League, but the Palace players’ other halves remain less than celebrities in their own right. Like the players, some of the real wags might say.
The wags to whom I refer are the “wits and gigglers”, those ready with quick-witted put downs. So when Campana, the under-20s international midfielder, signed a four-year deal, one was quick to snort, “So that’s three years in the Championship then.”
As soon as Palace won the play-off final, bookmakers were installing them as odds-on favourites to go straight back down, a fate that befalls the majority of teams promoted through the play-offs and who do not have recent Premier League experience.
Few outside the south London club’s loyal fanbase expect otherwise – and the chances are that many Palace fans little more, either.
But that doesn’t mean fans won’t enjoy the experience when they kick off the season at home to Tottenham – with or without Gareth Bale – on August 18.
Bale’s possible transfer to Real Madrid illustrates the scale of the challenge facing manager Ian Holloway and Palace. While world record transfer figures of £100 million are being bandied about, for the signature of a single, albeit outstanding, player, that is the same amount that was the supposed jackpot which Palace are due to receive as a result of their promotion to the Premier League. But spread over the course of four years, through prize money and potential parachute payments.
So just how good – or bad – will Palace’s Premier experience be?
A look at Palace’s pre-season in the transfer market – and their friendlies – would indicate the season could be one of ultimate struggle, much like manager Holloway’s year in the division with Blackpool.
On that occasion, his side began well but Holloway remained downbeat when the Tangerines flew into the top half of the table after 10 games, estimating – accurately, but to the surprise of TV pundits – that they might still be facing a relegation battle come the end of the season. Managing expectations, and then living down to them.
Palace’s plight is as much summed up by who they haven’t signed as much as who they have. Most of us would love to retain the fitness levels of Kevin Phillips when we reach 40. His admirable career goal record of 0.43 per game is boosted by long periods spent in the Championship, where he would most likely still prosper. But in 2013, against Premier League defenders?
Phillips may have his moments in the sun this season, but how many he scores against last season’s top six teams will be the real benchmark of success. Most likely, he will be a bit part player anyway, and who could resist a last fling in the top flight?
Alongside him to score goals, Palace have missed out on capturing Carlton Cole, a player who might well have prospered given a sustained first-term chance at a club. Born in Croydon, the 29-year-old remains a free agent after leaving West Ham, where he scored 47 times in 206 appearances. Palace could do a lot worse; the fact that they have not signed a proven Premier League striker on a free says much about the sort of contract terms they are able to offer.
Then there was West Brom’s Peter Odemwingie. Quite what they were thinking in pursuing a man who sat in his car outside QPR during the last transfer window, waiting for his agent to call to confirm a deal that never came, is anyone’s guess. Would Odemwingie be a disruption in the dressing room?
Holloway’s policy, in making Stephen Dobbie a permanent signing from Brighton and keeping the majority of his squad, seems to be to reward those who took Palace up, plus add a few. Some include old friends, like the latest signing Elliot Grandin, from Blackpool.
There’s nothing wrong with loyalty, as long as it isn’t blind. The likes of Glenn Murray (36 league goals in 79 league appearances for Palace) have surely earned their chance to play in the Premiership. Top level experience has been added in the shape of winger Jerome Thomas, formerly with West Brom and Arsenal.
And while Palace have been denied the chance to send their own prodigy, Wilfried Zaha, out in their own colours when they take on Tottenham on Sunday week, as his new club, Manchester United, have turned down a loan deal, they have bought another exciting prospect – Dwight Gayle.
Half the £17 million United spent on Zaha has been paid to Peterborough for Gayle. It is a club record fee, the smashing of which perhaps being inevitable because of the riches earned from promotion and because, when a Premier League club comes knocking, the asking price is bound to be big.
Now, I like an underdog, a developing talent. Gayle is 22, and scored 20 goals in 49 appearances for Posh, who bought him from another club known for picking gems and making money selling them on, Dagenham and Redbridge.
Palace played the Daggers – League Two relegation fodder in the writer’s humble opinion – in a pre-season friendly and won 2-1. They should have scored more. A 3-0 victory over League One Gillingham provoked better reports, including of new boy Campana and trialist Quincy Owusu-Abeyie.
The lacklustre 3-0 defeat at Crawley seems more of a worry, even though the Sussex club was more advanced in their pre-season preparations, having played many more fixtures.
Co-chairman Steve Parish talks of having “luxury problems” now Palace are in the Premier League and of signing more players before the season. They might not be household names, but they might just be hungry enough to try to make a name for themselves.
So here’s hoping Gayle can whip up a storm in the Premier League. If he is half as good as Zaha – by measure of price tags – Palace fans could be in for an enjoyable ride, even if their stay in the top tier turns out to be just a season.
How do Palace’s summer signings measure-up?
- Kevin Phillips – past his best, but will relish bit-part role 6
- Dwight Gayle – bags of potential. Has to prove himself 7
- Jerome Thomas – top flight experience at West Brom will be crucial 7
- Stephen Dobbie – Championship journeyman deserves chance 7
- Jose Campana – Ball-playing wonderkid? Could be suited to Premiership 8
- Elliot Grandin – Some Premier exposure 7
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