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Is this summer the perfect time for Crystal Palace to try something new?

Crystal Palace
(Image credit: PA Images)

Crystal Palace had two touches in the Brighton box and scored twice. Brighton had 52 in Palace’s penalty area and got one goal. Palace won. It was a managerial masterplan by Roy Hodgson, a gameplan executed to perfection. 

Or perhaps not. But the statistical curiosities around Palace’s Monday victory form a contrast with a rather more familiar sight. The victors now have 32 points. As usual under Hodgson, they are set to secure survival, and with something to spare. His formula of a low share of possession, a deep defence and quick counter-attacking tends to produce around 45 points, usually including at least one memorable win over one of the elite. Palace’s defence has been leakier than usual, but otherwise this is another of their Groundhog seasons: Wilfried Zaha wants to leave, doesn’t go and provides the entertainment to accompany Hodgson’s pragmatism. Palace don’t bother with a cup run, most of their squad get a year older and nothing else changes. Press repeat; copy and paste for another year of lucrative lower mid-table stability.

Or maybe not. Hodgson’s prowess at steering Palace to the brink of safety gives them an opportunity to plan for the future. They have prospered by postponing the future, fielding the side with the oldest average age in the Premier League under its oldest ever manager. Hodgson has brought longwinded sentences in the longest reign at Palace since Steve Coppell, who is nine years his junior, first stood down in 1993. 

But it may be time to curtail it. It would be ageist not to renew Hodgson’s contract when it expires this summer simply because he was born before the Partition of India and is older than 22 previous Palace managers or caretakers, one of whom took charge in 1981.

A man who has lived through much history has cited it, warning fans who want change to be careful what they wish for by invoking Charlton’s tumultuous history after parting company with Alan Curbishley. Palace feel scarred by their experience with Frank de Boer; they would be aware of the risk of dispensing with the guarantee of safety, even if a febrile fanbase have started to turn. The Holmesdale Fanatics accused Palace of a “pandemic of apathy” and “safety-first, spineless defensive tactics” last week. Hodgson was not mentioned by name but it was an attack on Hodgsonism.

If they would welcome an injection of ambition, perhaps the bored simply want someone different. The board have shown less willingness to move on, even though there is admiration for Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche. But there are reasons to feel that this could be the time to begin a new era. At 73, Hodgson feels timeless, the same manager he has been for years, if not decades; he is not declining.

But around a dozen of his ageing squad are out of contract this summer. It offers a chance for a successor to reshape the group in his own image. That some of them are among Palace’s biggest earners should free up much of the wage bill. That there are so many means it makes sense to keep a few – perhaps Gary Cahill, James McCarthy, Patrick van Aanholt, Nathaniel Clyne and Andros Townsend – for an element of continuity and, in some cases, as back-ups who will not cost a fee. In Nathan Ferguson, Eberechi Eze and Jean-Phillipe Mateta, Hodgson belatedly began acquiring younger players which, as Palace’s age profile feels a ticking timebomb, could form part of his legacy.

There is another reason to change now. The chances are that this season’s promoted clubs, like last, will be stymied more in the transfer market by football’s financial crisis; with their budget for signings reduced, it ought to be easier for the incumbents to survive in 2021/22. As the first season after Hodgson would always be a transitional year for Palace, it may be best to give any newcomer a campaign when he would possess that greater advantage over three newcomers to the division. Hodgson took over a team with no points from four games but has proved an expert at keeping Palace in the Premier League. It may complete that job if he left Palace at a time to give his successor the best chance of extending their stay.

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Richard Jolly
Richard Jolly

Richard Jolly also writes for the National, the Guardian, the Observer, the Straits Times, the Independent, Sporting Life, Football 365 and the Blizzard. He has written for the FourFourTwo website since 2018 and for the magazine in the 1990s and the 2020s, but not in between. He has covered 1500+ games and remembers a disturbing number of the 0-0 draws.