The king is dead, long live the king!

By - Thursday 4th September, 2014

Nadim Lilani bids farewell to Tony Pulis and looks to Palace’s future

It’s farewell to the manager who led Palace to their highest league finish since 1992, as Tony Pulis and his trademark baseball cap left the club amid a sea of controversy and uncertainty. Yes, the timing was terrible. Yes, the probability of signing several much-needed squad reinforcements has lessened. And yes, the Malky Mackay–Iain Moody text controversy has not helped matters. However, the hard work that the stern-faced Welsh manager put into the club will not be undone overnight.

During an era in which ongoing managerial spats, incessant mind games and artsy-fartsy analogies have become the norm, Pulis breaks the trend. He is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get, no-nonsense kind of man. Thus, he was the perfect fit for a club which has endured more ups and downs that an Eastenders omnibus in recent seasons. An uncompromising centre-half during his playing days, he was equally determined to avoid getting sucked in by media malarkey as Palace boss.

An equally professional stance has been adopted by players and staff at SE25 in light of the past fortnight’s events – the furore surrounding the departure of the club’s manager and footballing director being handled with measured competence. Caretaker manager Keith Millen highlighted the importance of taking the developments at Selhurst Park with a pinch of salt. Baying journalists asked how his players had responded to Iain Moody’s exit on Thursday. They laughed, replied Millen. Then they ran around the training pitch, just like normal footballers do, he added.

Tellingly, the Eagles’ fans have also shown an ability to derive humour from this bleak-looking situation. The travelling faithfuls’ exuberant cries of “Who needs a manager?” after Brede Hangeland’s opening goal at the Emirates Stadium on the opening weekend were mirrored by similarly sardonic remarks on social media outlets. “Another 11th-placed finish under Pulis would have been boring anyway” and “We’re Palace fans, we’re used to this!” were among the most common reactions. For followers of a club which almost disastrously disintegrated into non-existence just four years ago, the current climate of things really isn’t that bad at all.

The Malky Mackay affair was not a massive blow, but a setback. As Millen has stated though, it is of vital importance that a new manager is installed as quickly as is feasibly possible. If this fails to happen, that is when unrest will really start to creep in. Just look at recent developments at Southampton. The domino effect of Mauricio Pochettino joining Tottenham and several first-team players heading out of the exit door at Saint Mary’s led to the press sensationalizing the situation to a ridiculous level.

The lack of rumours of dressing-room bust-ups and first-team members handing in transfer requests portends to the incoming manager having little work to do in terms of rebuilding team spirit. Of course, the players will be hurt and confused by the fracas. But if they can bring themselves out of the doldrums to produce a terrific turnaround as they did after Ian Holloway’s departure last term, then they are capable of digging deep enough to conquer the current malaise.

However, Yannick Bolasie’s delay in signing a new deal is a cause for concern. His performance against West Ham was perhaps affected by the ongoing saga regarding a contract extension. The worry is not that he will jump ship before deadline day next week, but rather the possibility of the player leaving for free at the end of this season when his current contract terminates. Ensuring the winger puts pen to paper has to take priority for Palace’s next manager.

The emergence of Bolasie and his fellow wide man Jason Puncheon last season is another example of Palace triumphing in the face of adversity. The squad’s attacking options looked worryingly limited on the dawn of their first Premier League season in eight years. Local lad Wilfried Zaha had returned to parent club Manchester United after acting as catalyst for Palace’s impressive promotion from the Championship. Recently tipped with a comeback to his former club, Zaha would find it very difficult to oust either Puncheon or Bolasie out of the starting XI if such a move were to materialize.

The Eagles’ display against West Ham on Saturday 23rd August was a bitter disappointment, especially after the spirited showing at Arsenal on the opening weekend. In order to mute the ongoing media cacophony, the players must do their talking on the pitch. The reality is that the table reads zero points and an awkward feeling will remain until a first win is secured. Losing the first game of the season due to an injury-time goal was unlucky. To add insult to injury, Palace was also deprived of key player Joe Ledley in the warm-up prior to the West Ham encounter. Surely unfortunate incidents of this nature will cease in the near future. Then again, this is Palace we are talking about. Little old Palace, who are experts at spotting light at the end of the tunnel, only to watch it flicker away in an instant. Now, it’s back to the future: Palace appointed former manager Neil Warnock on 27th August. Naturally, the question on everyone’s lips is “what next?”. Giving it a jolly good go this season and nothing less, that’s what.

Nadim Lilani

Nadim Lilani

Nadim Lilani is a recent Hispanic Studies graduate from the University of Birmingham. A keen football fan and writer, he enjoys expressing his love for Croydon by documenting all things sport in south London.

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