It seems a foregone conclusion: after nearly four years of steady, mid-table safety, and 162 games in charge, Roy Hodgson’s last match as manager at Crystal Palace will come on the final day of the season at Liverpool, one of the many clubs he has managed in a 46-year career.
Hodgson is 73. He is the longest continuously serving Palace manager this century. Not since the days of Steve Coppell and Alan Smith has a Palace manager survived the demands and misfortunes of club management at Selhurst Park for so long. Hodgson has brought stability.
The former England boss had already retired once when he got the call in September 2017 to save his childhood club from the latest nosedive towards relegation. As recently as January this year, he was saying publicly that he would like, and accept, the offer of a contract extension.
No such new deal has been forthcoming.
His contract at Crystal Palace is up in a matter of weeks, and with Palace fans now looking forward to a ninth consecutive season in the Premier League – the club’s longest spell in English football’s top tier – it appears that for all parties concerned, the time is right to move on.
As Eagles fan and Match of the Day 2 writer Kevin Day told Inside Croydon’s Under The Flyover podcast five months ago, “I think this will be Roy Hodgson’s last club. I think Roy’s done a fantastic job for us, keeping us up.
“I don’t want him to be sacked, and I don’t think Steve Parish wants to be the man who sacks Roy Hodgson.”
It was in 1976 that Hodgson, a 28-year-old with a bit of teaching experience at a school in Selsdon, left Croydon to start out as a football coach with Halmstad in Sweden. Since when, he has been in charge of 16 different clubs in eight countries and managed England, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates and Finland national teams.
That the curtain is about to come down on his time as Palace boss means that the next couple of months could see an unusual amount of personnel changes at the club. Palace have the oldest squad in the Premier League, and they also have an unusually high number of current players whose contracts expire over the summer.
The latest suggestion is that Hodgson, a Freeman of the Borough of Croydon no less, will be offered another honour, a boardroom job at Selhurst Park, styled as director of football or some such. Taking his place as manager might be Sean Dyche, the sometime Millwall centre-back who has managed Burnley since 2012, or Eddie Howe, former boss at Bournemouth. But there’s plenty of ex-players and out-of-work managers out there for chairman Steve Parish to choose from. John Terry, anyone?
“I know the football has not been easy on the eye for most of the season, but I do think people have severely underestimated how well Hodgson has done,” Mark Silverstein wrote recently in Palace fanzine The Eagle’s Beak.
“I just hope people understand this with hindsight in future seasons. The club has realised the squad needs to be freshened up and the average age of the squad brought down.”
Too much change at once carries huge, and potentially ruinous, risks.
As Silverstein points out, “It would present a real risk to our Premier League status, particularly if there is a wholesale transformation of the playing squad at the same time.
“Our margin for error in taking such a risk is too high. A drop of a few places for us does not mean a disappointing season of mid-table mediocrity, it means relegation and financial disaster.”
The past two, covid-hit seasons have been physically demanding on players and staff, and there’s no certainty that, come August when the 2021-2022 season is expected to begin, everything will be back to the way things were in 2019.
Certainly, the Premier League broadcasting paymasters might want to keep the current wall-to-wall football scheduling, with kick-off times staggered across the week – something only a large and resilient young squad might be able to cope with.
Palace have taken much encouragement from their under-23s and promising under-18 squads, but these young players will need time to be brought through – which was why some Eagles fans wanted someone like Frank Lampard, who did so much with young England stars Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi at Chelsea, to be given his next chance in Premier League management here in south London.
“We need to find a way to continue our stay in the Premier League to allow the time for our Academy players to develop into the next Wilfried Zahas or Aaron Wan-Bissakas,” Silverstein writes. “Of course not every Academy player will do this, but even a handful could help to transform the finances or the quality of our playing squad, or both!”
And the fanzine paid tribute to the club’s owner. “Although Steve Parish has put the occasional foot wrong… only the most churlish of Palace supporters would fail to recognise what he has achieved. Nine consecutive years in the Premier League is by far the best Palace performance in our history.
“When combined with the transformation of the Academy and (hopefully) the redevelopment of Selhurst Park, Steve Parish and the rest of the ownership are building something which could transform Palace into a sustainable, financially viable and well-established Premier League club.”
Hodgson’s steady hand on the tiller these past four years has been a key part of that.
The Premier League’s oldest manager last week accepted a Lifetime Achievement prize at the London Football Awards, beforehand saying that his elder statesman status had enabled him and the Palace players, some 50 years his junior, to develop a different, respectful professional relationship.
“The players here don’t expect me to talk to them or to socialise with them or to interact with them on the basis of our common interest,” Hodgson told the Evening Standard.
“They probably accept that when I go home I read different books, or watch different television programmes. I have an interest in different actors and TV stars.
“What they’re interested to get from me is a training session and information that will help them do their job better on a Saturday.
“It’s better in a way that I don’t like the music they listen to and they certainly wouldn’t like the music I listen to, but that is great, because I don’t oblige them to listen to my music.
“At least at home games when their music is on I can retreat to my manager’s room.”
Palace’s next match is tomorrow night, at Southampton. After that, the Roy Hodgson era will then have just another 270 minutes of playing time left.
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