“Crystal Palace have got the right colours to do what I believe football is all about,” the south London club’s new manager said shortly after his appointment.
“The strip is very similar to Barcelona’s, and they represent what I’m trying to get to: possession, passing, attacking, defending off your attacking, fresh young footballers and creating your own style.”
Unfortunately for all concerned, Ian Holloway was never really able to deliver on his vision. The current Queens Park Rangers chief did guide Palace into the Premier League just a few months after his arrival in November 2012, but he never really convinced at Selhurst Park and was gone less than a year later.
Frank de Boer, the Eagles’ first ever permanent foreign boss, will hope for a better fate. The ex-Ajax and Inter Milan head coach was confirmed as Sam Allardyce’s successor on Monday, 34 days after the post was made vacant. Ronald de Boer, his twin brother, made similar comments to Holloway last week, telling Sky Sports that “we were brought up with the philosophy of Ajax and Barcelona, so you can expect a similar style of ball possession but creative because football is entertainment of course.”
De Boer’s last job did not go well. Hopes were high when he pitched up at San Siro last summer, yet Inter won only five of 14 games under his guidance and he was sacked with the side 12th in the Serie A standings in November. He was, of course, not entirely to blame for the Nerazzurri’s seemingly chronic dysfunction, but De Boer certainly did not have anywhere near the impact expected of him.
Prior to that, though, he won four successive Eredivisie titles at Ajax – not the most difficult achievement, instinct might suggest, but it is worth noting that the Amsterdam giants had not finished on top of the pile in Holland for six years when he assumed the role in 2010. De Boer may not have been directly responsible for Ajax’s run to the Europa League final last term, but he did lay much of the groundwork by restoring the club’s domestic pre-eminence.
The chance to repolish his reputation in the Premier League clearly appealed to the Dutchman, who won six league titles, the Champions League and 112 international caps as a player. Palace were in turn impressed with his willingness to bring down the squad’s average age – according to reports, players between the ages of 21 and 24 will be targeted in the transfer market – and largely work with the tools already at his disposal at Selhurst Park.
While acquisitions will probably be made in the coming weeks, Palace do not intend to spend heavily in the current window. Having helped develop the likes of Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Daley Blind in Amsterdam, De Boer will also be expected to make the most of any academy products who are deemed good enough to follow in the footsteps of Wilfried Zaha, Nathaniel Clyne and Victor Moses by breaking into the first team.
No homegrown youngster has become a squad regular at Selhurst Park since the side secured a spot in the Premier League, so fans will be highly receptive to any attempts to promote from within.
Over a month passed between Allardyce’s resignation and confirmation of De Boer’s arrival, so it is clear that Palace have been thorough in terms of their due diligence. It is, moreover, entirely understandable that Steve Parish and his colleagues took their time given the nature of their previous appointments, the overwhelming majority of which took place during the season rather than the summer.
Dougie Freedman replaced George Burley in January; Holloway was installed in November following Freedman’s shock defection to Bolton Wanderers; Tony Pulis, after a delay, joined when the Eagles were bottom of the Premier League 12 months later; Neil Warnock succeeded him when few other options were available in late August; Alan Pardew was handed the reins in January; and Allardyce took charge shortly before Christmas with Palace locked in another relegation battle.
On this occasion, the club’s hierarchy decided not to rush; the circumstances and time of year meant there was less urgency than before, while there were also considerably more worthy candidates to assess. Getting the right man, Parish and co. reasoned, was more important than rushing something over the line.
Whether De Boer is that figure remains to be seen, but the ambition shown by the board will no doubt be welcomed by supporters of a club who have grown used to more obvious managerial choices in recent years. These are exciting times. Just don’t expect Palace to turn into Barcelona overnight.