Crystal Palace engulfed in identity crisis as critical decisions loom


or a club whose approach is “south London and proud”, Crystal Palace are suffering from an identity crisis ahead of the trip to their biggest rivals Brighton tonight.

“Be loud, be proud, be Palace” is the cry sent out over the PA system at Selhurst Park before every home game, but last week an influential group of fans said that Palace are suffering from a “pandemic of apathy” and a large number of supporters have become bored with their team drifting in mid-table.

They criticised “spineless, defensive tactics” and it is clear that changes are needed to restore the connection with supporters.

On and off the pitch, they are facing an uncertain future. Manager Roy Hodgson delivers survival year on year but supporters are calling for the club to aim higher. Hodgson, his staff and a dozen players are out of contract at the end of the season.

The Eagles still can’t find a way to win without Wilfried Zaha. They have now lost 18 of their last 20 Premier League games without him and have looked dismal in recent defeats against Leeds and Burnley. Results, of course, set the mood, but a sense of drift has set in.

Hodgson has squeezed every ounce of potential out of the squad during his three-and-a-half years in charge, but there is a feeling this is now a group capable of more.

“People need to be careful,” Hodgson has warned over the clamour for a more exciting future ahead of the Brighton game. “Personally I think it [staying up] is not a bad achievement for a team that has actually spent not very much money and has worked within a reasonable budget to be in the League every year. If people want more than that then it is going to take an enormous amount of investment.”

Investment is what is needed this summer, whatever the ambition, and owner Steve Parish and sporting director Dougie Freedman are working to regenerate an ageing squad.

Until the £19.5million arrival of Eberechi Eze last summer, the most expensive signing made during Hodgson’s tenure had been Cheikhou Kouyate, signed for an initial £9.5m in 2018.

With so many players in the final six months of their contracts, Palace are at a crossroads. Exciting football is what every supporter and club want to see, but Palace were left burned by their last attempt under Frank de Boer.

Christian Benteke, Mamadou Sakho and Patrick van Aanholt are all likely to be let go. Tentative talks have begun over extended deals for Andros Townsend and Scott Dann, while Gary Cahill is also expected to stay on, but nothing is imminent.

Palace are in the driving seat over renewals, but there is a sense of unease around the club. Hodgson has said he is happy to leave his future until the end of the season, but those in the squad, the fanbase and potential new recruits will want clarity.

Freedman has led the way on new arrivals over the past 12 months, and many signings are not introduced to Hodgson until the 11th hour of their move being struck. A future of fluid football beyond the former England manager, who is increasingly sounding like a man who does not expect to be in charge next season, has been pitched during negotiations with those who have arrived in the last year, but implementing that vision is far more difficult than selling it.

Palace’s fierce rivals Brighton offer a good case study. After a second season in the Premier League, when they finished 17th but ended with a poor run of form, a change was made. Chris Hughton, viewed as a safe pair of hands, was moved on and in came the more progressive Graham Potter.

At times since it has looked a big risk, but appears to be paying off now. The Seagulls are three points behind Palace but they are looking upwards.

Victory at the Amex would put a smile back on the faces of disgruntled fans for now. But Palace are a club facing a big few months as they decide what they want to be.

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