Keith Millen thought last Saturday’s 0-0 draw against Everton was going to be his last in temporary charge of Premier League strugglers Crystal Palace. That might still turn out to be wishful thinking.
The clock is ticking. It is now more than three weeks since Ian Holloway walked away from the Palace manager’s job, his dignity intact but clearly utterly confounded by the demands of delivering a team that could even manage to be competitive in the Premier League.
The club’s co-chairman Steve Parish spent two days considering the fall-out from the meeting he’d had with his manager immediately after the demoralising 4-1 home defeat to fellow strugglers Fulham. Part of Holloway’s downfall, Parish has admitted, had been the club’s ill-preparedness for the step up to the Premier League, chief among the short-comings having been the absence of senior scouting staff. That seems to have been addressed, bolting the stable door long after the horse has galloped out of sight, with the recruitment of Iain Moody.
But the lengthening delay in bringing a replacement for Holloway underlines how the manager’s departure caught the board unawares, and possibly with too small a budget to attract their original first choices.
How unattractive an “opportunity” is the Palace manager’s job? Tailed off at the foot of the Premier League table after 11 games, with just four points, no significant transfer funds available in the December window, and as for the wages… The decisions of Rene Meulensteen to go to Fulham just as head coach, of Aitor Karanka to take on the manager’s job at Championship club Middlesbrough, and for Tony Pulis to remain unemployed amply demonstrate that Selhurst Park is not the attraction many might have thought.
Today’s news is that Parish has flown to Russia to have talks with Dan Petrescu, the former Romania and Chelsea defender now managing Dinamo Moscow. That’s left Iain Dowie cooling his heels, clearly only a second choice option on a short-list of second-choicers.
With each passing day, the chance of any new manager being able to pull off the greatest escape in footballing history becomes ever more remote. The “plan” had been to appoint “someone with Premier League experience” to bring a “new approach”, meaning a less porous defence. Pulis fitted that bill, and was eminently available. But when his demands were a little too pricy, it became known that Palace were talking to Chris Coleman, too.
This is a classic football agent’s poker ploy: it strengthened Coleman’s hand in his discussions over his Wales job, in the hope of persuading Pulis to reduce his demands. Yesterday, Coleman got his contract extension, while Palace…
The ideal for Parish would have been to have the deal agreed and signed, with their chosen candidate sitting in the director’s box last Saturday ready to start on Monday, and giving the new man the two-week international break to get to know the squad and preparing his side for the next three games.
The new manager will want to, and need to, strengthen the squad during the transfer window. But to do that, he will need to unload a number of the players who under Holloway quickly became surplus to requirements, and in some cases disaffected, undermining the rest of the dressing room. But who would have them? How much can the club expect to recoup in such a mid-season fire sale?
And probably worst of all: what players are likely to want to join Palace on the club’s wage structure and face a five-month slog to relegation?
The new manager might have had all of the past week to look at his non-international players in training, get to know some of them, look at the details of their contracts, and discuss with Moody their December options. Now, any new manager will have less than a week for such an induction course and to make any sort of impact before three games which will define the rest of the season.
Palace fans of the glass half-full variety are seriously talking about their next three fixtures being “winnable”. But the glass more-than-half-empty realists have been correcting them. The games are must-wins:
- away at 12th placed Hull (Nov 23)
- home to 16th placed West Ham (Dec 3)
- home to 14th placed Cardiff (Dec 7) and then away to Chelsea…
Palace risk becoming known as the first club to be relegated before the clocks went back. If that is to be avoided at all, five points from the next nine available are essential.
Palace are three points adrift of a woeful Sunderland team which has had the benefit of rejuvenation from a new manager, Gus Poyet, who was considered untouchable at Selhurst Park because of the words “Brighton and Hove Albion” on his CV. Palace are six points adrift of Fulham, Stoke and West Ham, the clubs that straddle the edge of the drop zone and the nirvana of 17th place, surely the greatest extent of any new manager’s ambition.
“We’re getting closer,” Parish said yesterday. But the co-chairman’s honesty in his television interview demonstrated the realities of the situation. “It’s quite fluid at the moment. It’s gone on a lot longer than we thought. We’re talking to lots of people, getting lots of references. We are quite close.
“It’s a difficult decision, and it is important we get it right.”
Parish’s next comments were revealing. “Once we get to the point of making an offer, a decision is made. We are not talking to anyone where finances are a problem,” he said, which kind of suggests that in the case of others – Pulis perhaps? – the financial package on offer was an issue.
In the case of Petrescu, he is reported to be demanding a three-year contract, something which offers what passes for security in the football management profession: were Palace to be relegated and then, by this time next year, not be in the top seven or eight in the Championship, a two-year pay-off would buy Petrescu time to find his next club.
“It would be nice to do it on Saturday,” Parish said. “It depends on complications – where they are physically, location. We’ve made no secret… one or two people abroad. All will be revealed soon.”
The second of the “one or two people abroad” is understood to be Andrea Stramaccioni, the law graduate who lasted one full season as manager at Internazionale, finishing ninth in Serie A, thus being the first time in 15 years that they failed to qualify for Europe.
At least one Palace fan has kept a sense of humour about the situation, though, taking out an ad offering the job of “Captain of a sinking ship” which lasts seven months. Which is when the season ends. And by the end of the World Cup summer, Roy Hodgson should be available.
Coming to Croydon
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- Much Ado About Nothing: Nov 25
- Future Tech City: Nov 30
- Comedy in Music show: Dec 1
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
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