Stark shift in policy for Palace
By hiring De Boer, Premier League survivors seem to be looking at the long term, writes Richard Jolly
It feels a coup for Crystal Palace. They are not accustomed to appointing former Inter Milan managers, or those with four league titles to their name.
Frank de Boer’s arrival appears to mark a stark shift in policy and a change of eras. It can be seen as further evidence of the Premier League’s pulling power as he bolsters the list of managers employed in grander surroundings abroad who have joined seemingly smaller clubs in England. In his case, an idiosyncratic one.
There was a corner of south London that seemed forever Britain. While foreign managers abounded elsewhere, since returning to the top flight in 2013, Palace have been managed by Ian Holloway, Tony Pulis, Neil Warnock, Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce and the caretaker Keith Millen.
They are not all dinosaurs, but collectively they produced a distinct old-school feel, one that was only amplified by the antiquated nature of Selhurst Park.
A progressive feel has been injected now. De Boer brings the Ajax ethos from a club where he won the Uefa Champions League as a stylish defender and four Eredivisie titles as a precocious manager. His capacity to develop and improve young players is reflected in Ajax’s profitable transfer activity.
The list of those who progressed under his guidance – Luis Suarez, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld, Daley Blind, Arkadiusz Milik, Davy Klaassen – may offer encouragement that Palace will be transformed. Their dressing rooms have been notable for the predominance of senior professionals.
Those in their early twenties, such as Wilfried Zaha, have tended to be outnumbered.
That is not the Ajax way. Nor, really, is a style of play that has often relied upon counter-attacking at pace, eventually allied with Allardyce’s perennial focus on defensive solidity.
Palace averaged 46.8 per cent possession and a 73.4 per cent pass completion rate last season, figures that ranked them 15th and 16th in the division respectively. De Boer should change that: while no Louis van Gaal devotee, accusations of sideways passing have been levelled at both.
Yet effecting an attitudinal switch may not be simple. In one sense, Allardyce’s abrupt retirement was ideal news: he excels at keeping teams up but with an ever greater emphasis on immediacy. If short-termism seems entrenched at a club with 10 permanent managers since 2010, it was also understandable.
Pulis, Pardew and Allardyce all inherited sides in relegation struggles. De Boer allows Palace to plan for the long term.
It is easier said than done. Summer appointments tend to be made with futuristic schemes, mid-season ones when ambitious ideas have backfired.
De Boer’s ill-fated time at Inter is a case in point, as well as offering an illustration that a fine start is important. Now the feeling is that Palace have comparatively little to spend after Allardyce paid out around £35 million (Dh164m) in January for Patrick van Aanholt, Jeffrey Schlupp and Luka Milivojevic. Some in the current squad scarcely seem De Boer players. Unlike at Ajax, there is no conveyor belt of young talent productive as Palace’s academy has proved in the past.
It forms part of the intrigue. Palace is probably not De Boer’s ideal club.
In some respects, Southampton would have been a better fit for him. But his arrival also indicates that he had few other options. His reputation was damaged in Italy by his 14-game, 85day stint in charge of Inter.
He had a strong preference to work in England and it is thought he may have even considered Championship jobs.
Such is the appeal England exerts, but if De Boer’s first task now is to keep Palace out of the second flight, the bigger job is to build something sustainable and lasting in a fashion his British predecessors did not.
Frank de Boer’s challenge will be to build something sustainable.