On Saturday afternoon Roy Hodgson stood in the dugout at Selhurst Park with his arms crossed and a forlorn expression etched on his face. The 70-year-old has always been regarded as one of the deep-thinkers of football management and he was certainly left with plenty to ponder over by the time that the final whistle had been sounded to confirm a fifth straight defeat for Crystal Palace.
Hodgson was probably wondering why his side had conspired to concede the only goal of the game within six minutes or, perhaps, how Christian Benteke had fired his shot directly at the goalkeeper from six yards out when it looked easier to score on the half hour mark. One of the most experienced managers remaining in football may well have wondered why he was in South London at all rather than enjoying a well-deserved retirement on a beach in Barbados.
It is over two years since he last occupied a dugout, on a fateful evening that ended in his England side being knocked out of the European Championships by Iceland, and few had expected him to make a return to top flight football. Hodgson has reached the ripe old age of 70 and after 41 years of management it is testament to his passion for the game that he has launched himself into the deep end by taking charge of a Crystal Palace side that appears to be destined for relegation. Saving The Eagles from the drop will be one of the biggest challenges in his career.
The statistics, results and forthcoming fixtures do not make for positive reading. Palace have lost all five of their opening Premier League fixtures and have yet to even score a goal – something that has never occurred before in the top flight of English football. Up next are Manchester United and Manchester City, both away fixtures, before they host reigning Champions Chelsea at Selhurst Park in early October. It is not inconceivable that The Eagles will find themselves without a point or a goal to their name after eight games of the season.
Problems, solutions and a slim glimmer of hope
The problems that Roy Hodgson faces at Crystal Palace will come as little surprise to those that have observed the club over the last five years.
Since securing promotion to the Premier League in 2013 under Ian Holloway the team have been consistently dipping in and around the relegation zone. There is a definitive lack of identity and there is little doubt that the squad needs to be galvanised and remoulded into an effective cohort. The current crop of players appear to have adopted an inability to defend and an impotency in front of goal whilst key figures in the team seem incapable of producing substantial performances on any sort of consistent basis.
Frank de Boer attempted to change the culture and philosophy at the club but the contrast in the total-football that he wanted to implement and the route-one style of play utilised by his predecessor, Sam Allardyce, was too great for a limited group of players to be able to adapt to. The end result was that the Dutchman lost his job after just four games in charge and Palace have rooted themselves to the foot of the Premier League table.
However, Hodgson will provide a slim glimmer of hope for Crystal Palace supporters. The 70-year-old has previous experience of saving a club from relegation having successfully overseeing Fulham’s last-day great escape in 2008. He is renowned for developing teams that get the basics right, that are hard to beat but effective in the final third, with training consisting of constant work on the shape and structure. Although his style of management and play may not have suited the so-called ‘big’ jobs in which he has undoubted failed, such as with England and Liverpool, it could well be just what the doctor ordered for a sinking Palace side.
But not all of the pressure or blame should be placed solely on the shoulders of Hodgson as the campaign progresses. The current Crystal Palace squad consists of experienced and talented individuals such as Andros Townsend, Scott Dann, Christian Benteke and Yahan Cabaye – where has their contribution been over the opening month of the season? It is time for the players to stand up and be counted, whilst it is Hodgson’s job to facilitate a system that maximises their ability.
It will certainly not be as easy at is sounds. Maybe Roy Hodgson should have stayed on that beach in Barbados …