Four games, that’s all it took. That’s how many Premier League games Frank de Boer was afforded before he was ushered out of the door at Selhurst Park. He leaves with the unwanted record of the shortest reign of any manager in the Premier League era – relieving Les Reed of that dubious honour, and making his seven games with Charlton seem almost an eternity in comparison.
It was only 77 days after a smiling Steve Parish, the Crystal Palace chairman, introduced De Boer as his club’s new manager. In those heady days of summer all the talk was of a transition in playing style, and building a new vision of Crystal Palace based on attractive, possession based football. It was a beguiling vision, but now that summer has given way to autumn, that optimism has swiftly evaporated.
De Boer was tasked with rewiring the club’s DNA, a process which would take considerable time, not to mention changes to the playing personnel. In the end, he was afforded neither. In the summer, Mamadou Sakho was secured on a permanent basis, but the only additions to the team that successfully avoided relegation last season were a couple of loan signings and Jairo Riedewald, a talented but raw £7.8 million singing from Ajax, De Boer’s previous club.
It was painfully obvious that Palace’s players struggled to adapt to the demands placed upon them by their new manager. Attempts to transition to a style of play defined by patient possession and circulation of the football were unsuccessful. The manger’s desire to implement three at the back, which had served him well in Holland, was hardly unexpected, but backfired when it became increasingly clear that he did not have the personnel to successfully implement the system.
The club’s successes of the past few years had been built on a direct, physical brand of football, built around the twin pillars of a strong defence and organisation. De Boer had spoken of evolution not revolution on the pitch, but there was a strong sense that he was trying to change too much too soon. It was uncomfortable viewing to hear De Boer complaining of his players’ lack of “courage” on the ball after the loss to Swansea. When reports began to emerge of some players’ unease with their new manager there was no great deal of surprise.
De Boer will emerge from the situation bruised from his experience. He now has a 77 day reign in the Premier League to go alongside his 85 days in charge of Inter Milan. It is an unenviable record. The reputation of a man once regarded as one of the brightest young managerial prospects in Europe has taken a battering.
Equally however, serious questions must be asked of the Crystal Palace owners. Sacking for De Boer for a lack of success, while playing exactly the way he was hired to do, does not reflect well on anyone. If De Boer was hired primarily to enact a stylistic change on the pitch, surely the owners would have foreseen that such a process would take time? With the appointment they were taking a calculated risk, but by aborting the experiment before it had barely got off the ground the owners have left them open to ridicule.
In the end they got cold feet, and their dreams of flowing football were sacrificed in favour of a more pragmatic approach that the strong favourite for the job, Roy Hodgson, specialises in. The whole incident smacks of muddled thinking at the top of the club, as they attempt to navigate their way out of a mess all of their own making.