Frank De Boer broke records on the morning of September 11th, 2017, being sacked after four Premier League games in charge of Crystal Palace, and being the only team since 1924 to not score and lose all your first four games. Quickly after the Dutchman was relieved of his duty as manager of Crystal Palace, which has opened a fresh debate on managers and their longevity in the Premier League. The Hype Train analyses the sacking of Frank De Boer, and we also look at the future of a club that is dangerously close to collapsing in on itself.
If you'd like to read more about De Boer's short-lived spell in the Premier League, we did an in-depth look at Palace initially signing the former former Ajax and Inter Milan manager early this summer. The contrast between this follow up article, compared to just 77 days prior, is quite breathtaking.
Two broken records, two you don't want on your CV. Crystal Palace were the first-time team since 1924 to not score in their opening four league games, and lose every match. That's nearly one hundred years, an entire century of football. In today's modern game when clean sheets are at a premium it does put into context the severity of the Eagle’s start, there is no running that it was atrocious from the London club. There isn't even any leeway in the teams they faced; they squared up against Huddersfield, Swansea, Burnley, and even Liverpool at Anfield (where they had managed results in their previous two visits), and from these four games zero points were collected. Among the production team here at The Hype Train it was the loss at Liverpool that really put into place just how far Palace have changed; they couldn't even do the simple things they knew were good at... long balls, darting runs, crosses, set-pieces. Liverpool suffered in the past because the Eagles knew how to pick up results by targeting weak defending, and now they can't even buy a result against opposition they typically pick up points against.
Most embarrassing for the departed Dutchman, De Boer now holds the record for the fewest games in charge of a club, being in the Palace hot-seat for just four Premier League games before he was given the pink slip. Skip forward a few years and we expect that is still the record for a Premier League managers tenure at any club, it is just an embarrassing statistic not just for De Boer but also the board who have shown their weak underbelly after declaring that they would 'stick together' as a unit, and in the morning their newly appointed manager was shown the exit.
Was the Crystal Palace board right to sack De Boer?
Let's not hide from the fact that De Boer had the worst start imaginable, it really was the stuff of nightmares for Palace supporters, and even players in the FPL community who chanced Palace options in what were meant to be favourable fixtures. Benteke and Zaha both disappointed in De Boer's short stay, quite literally no value has come from the Eagles so far. Few people saw De Boer departing first, and if were we to ask the two people in our pre-season forecast that De Boer would be gone by week four of the season they would themselves be surprised at just how quickly Chairman Steve Parish was looking for a replacement.
After reports emerged that Parish was looking to replace De Boer as early as the beginning of September, even before the transfer window closed, really underlines the mistake that the board of Crystal Palace have made. You could argue that the board had made the wrong appointment to begin with, and we believe that De Boer was more suited at a club like Southampton where he had the chance to bring through young players, and develop the academy. Likewise, we believe Mauricio Pellegrino was better suited to Crystal Palace, so you could argue that it was always the wrong fit to begin with, so removing De Boer early could be hindsight. Other contributing factors to objectively justify the sacking is that there was no consistency in the team, they didn't sign a second striker in the transfer market, he put on defenders when they were losing, and that the Premier League takes no prisoners when things are at their worst. Just as we stated before the season even started there was no safety net for De Boer in England.
Taking away any emotion out of the situation, looking at why he should have been kept makes you really wonder if it was the board of Crystal Palace who dropped the ball on their own club. De Boer was improving game-on-game, eventually a result was going to come, and to sack him so soon means that Parish had assumed that there would never be success, but to come out and say that they need to stick together, only to then wield the guillotine the next morning is massive double standards. After pulling the same move with Alan Pardew, it is the board who are making them an enemy to the supporters. De Boer is once again another victim of an increasingly paranoid board who are feeling the pressure of a potential downward spiral back down to the Championship, especially with promoted clubs such as Huddersfield, Brighton, and Newcastle on more points at this early stage of the season. Newcastle showed resilience against Swansea, and the board may feel their decision to sack De Boer is justified after watching West Ham climb off the bottom of the table after beating Huddersfield.
Sacking a manager this early is alarming, particularly because Mamadou Sakho hadn't even made his debut this season as a permanent Crystal Palace player. Wilfried Zaha has been injured, as was Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Yohan Cabaye had just come back from injury, Patrick van Aanholt was also coming back from an injury, and Luka Milivojevic was injured during the international break and was unavailable for the Burnley game. De Boer never had the opportunity to turn it around with the full contingent of players at his disposal, and we believe he had done well in the transfer window to enhance the team, perhaps a second striker to compliment Benteke was the only thing they missed out on.
The acquisition of Sakho could have finally put to rest many of the silly mistakes that were leading to sloppy goals conceded, there was a better future ahead of Palace with the Frenchman playing. Many could point the finger of injustice as De Boer's sacking sets a dangerous precedent, one that the club could revisit should another manager run into a bad patch of form. Crystal Palace could have had a consistent manager in De Boer, but the morally wrong part of the sacking was that the Eagles board allowed a statistic, and pressure from the press, to get the better of the reality.
Asking for De Boer to win matches without his full team makes the situation even worse, and in many teams, there is players with the x-factor that make the difference, Sakho and Zaha were those players, and Loftus-Cheek has the potential to add to that. Cabaye also made a stark difference when he came back into the team. The loss to Burnley was down to poor luck, and Parish would have seen a dominant Eagles walk away feeling that they could take positives from a negative which was the first time they could say that all season. De Boer could have turned a corner, and it is grossly unfair for the board to give De Boer only four league games to build a legacy. Could you imagine if Alex Ferguson had been sacked after his bad start for Man United? God forbid.
The biggest question mark, and the reason why Palace fans are rightfully worried, is the nature of the replacement that has been lined up: Roy Hodgson. The fears of the supporters may be lessened if a reliable and exciting coach was being touted, but instead the name is that is in the headlines is that of England's former disgraced coach who had a resignation letter in his pocket during the Euros just in case he needed to use it, and he did...after defeat to Iceland in the knockout stages. Hodgson didn't bow out, he recognised the blazing fire of failure and jumped ship out of a mess that he created, the last thing football fans know of him is utter catastrophe and a series of well documented failures at major tournaments, so it is more than understandable why any rationale supporter would be vexed.
Whilst Roy Hodgson has Premier League experience, a diverse profile, and experience of managing top quality players, it doesn't add up by throwing him in the deep end at Selhurst Park which is in inner turmoil. The display at Burnley showed everyone that the players were behind De Boer, the only factor that wasn't behind him was a bit of luck. Can you imagine if you are Mamadou Sakho, and you never played under the manager that signed you, I'd be rightfully concerned about the club that just spent a fortune to have you there. Can you imagine being Wilfried Zaha coming back from injury and playing in Roy's dull system. Can you imagine being Christian Benteke and asked to take corner kicks?
Replacing De Boer with Hodgson makes the matters worse for the club, it is an impatient move made by the board who were more concerned about their profit margin than the development of the club, and we believe it is a largely negative appointment built on the fear of Parish and his board. De Boer was there to elevate the club, and Hodgson will be there to consolidate for an upcoming relegation battle. That is the message being sent by the board, and it doesn't matter if it is was with De Boer or with Hodgson, Palace are resigning themselves to a tough season. Hodgson himself even said that he anticipates a struggle, and if you recall David Moyes words about Sunderland preparing for a tough season, anyone would rightfully anticipate failure. Players pick up on this in the dressing room, and it could be a decision that backfires on the club. Ask any Liverpool supporter, or West Brom, about the capability of Roy Hodgson and then realise that Palace have made an even bolder move to appoint Hodgson, than keep De Boer.
Saturday’s early kick-off against Southampton was Hodgson’s first test as Eagles manager, and the script ultimately hadn’t changed, with the Eagles losing consecutive matches by the score-line of 1-0, and Roy now picks up the record as being the man in charge of a club who sets the harrowing record of the opening five games…five losses…no goals. Benteke looked shot for any confidence, he wasn’t putting away simple chances, once that is resolved then the situation may improve. Southampton though could have won by more, and it was fortunate that it only ended by one goal.
There is a long road ahead for Palace, and Hodgson started in the worst way possible. Up next in the league for the Eagles are Man City (A), Man United (A), and Chelsea (H); and it very well could be eight games, eight losses, and no goals. Considering the record held by De Boer with four games in charge, there is every chance that Hodgson and De Boer may have identical starting records. Steve Parish might be in the same situation again soon enough, debating his choice of manager.
We believe that there were grounds to both sack and keep De Boer, and if you only look at the situation objectively then you could understand the motives of Steve Parish to make the call he did by letting him go after just four league games. But where they right to sack the Dutchman? when you add in the factors of Roy Hodgson replacing him, and the impatient expectations of the board, then the unequivocal answer is yes, they were wrong to sack him. Giving a manager only four games to do anything before sacking them is unethical, and it is crystal clear that Steve Parish was acting quickly to undo his mistake of employing De Boer in the first place. Despite perhaps not being the best fit for the club, the way De Boer was released from his contract further damages the reputation of the entire club. Adding to the equation the arrival of Roy Hodgson as the new manager it looks like the entire club is on a downward spiral, with likelihood of darker days ahead for the club.
De Boer can take a positive out of this: despite the new record, the tenure once again does not reflect that poorly on him. Like his time at Inter Milan, he was messed around by a poorly run club that wanted diamonds from dirt. De Boer can move on, and if he finds a club that is the right fit for him then there is no doubt he will still be a successful manager at another club.
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