Crystal Palace's board and fans were seduced by the name rather than the substance.
If you had no interest in football at all and took to social media earlier this week you would have been under the impression that Palace had taken just about the most unreasonable step that could be expected of any football club. Our fans, fans of other clubs, broadsheet journalists and many more – they were all united in their view that the club had pulled the trigger too soon on Frank De Boer, a man who just deserved more time.
The decision has been portrayed as outrageous and a sign that modern football is too fickle, too short-termist and too impulsive. “How can you possibly fire a man after only four games?” some say. “But the performance at Burnley was good!” say others. Get real. The mistake Palace made with Frank de Boer wasn’t getting rid of someone who was clearly never going to work at Selhurst after only four games, but hiring the guy in the first place.
The warning signs were already there for anyone who looked closely enough, which the club clearly didn’t. He idolises Louis van Gaal, a difficult and aloof man. He fell out straight away with the hierarchy at Inter and was criticised there for being naïve in how his team was set up defensively. He speaks of footballing ‘philosophies’ as if there is a single and right way to play the game. He hung out teammates to dry in the press as a player when they made mistakes. He was part of a Netherlands squad which was constantly at war with itself. He made a team that had Christian Eriksen as its heartbeat look boring and negative. His honours came in a league where the level of football for the most part is of a mediocre Championship level. A league where even Steve
McClaren was a champion with FC Twente, the sort of club where a coach of De Boer’s managerial ability will probably now end up.
All of the negative coverage about the decision to fire De Boer assumes that ‘the project’ would inevitably have been successful at some point. In fact the talk when De Boer joined Palace was of a world class coach with a glittering CV coming to join and take us to a new level. Never mind that
De Boer was part of an Ajax setup where jobs for the boys were so widespread that Edwin van der Sar became the club’s marketing director – imagine the outcry on Palace Twitter if Perry Suckling was appointed as our Communications Chief! Never mind that the talk of the man being able to coach a great defence ignored that he had the current Spurs centre back partnership – one of the best in the World - at his disposal in a league where defences are so bad that Dirk Kuyt looked like a hot shot superstar. Never mind that the arguments about him knowing how to bring through youth ignored that he had one of the world’s best academies at his disposal in Amsterdam.
Fans talk as if the only thing stopping managers being a success is clubs refusing to give the manager enough time to find it. This couldn’t be further from the truth. But, what about Alex Ferguson, they say? What a load of rubbish – managers can’t be given multiple seasons to get it right now, as the demands of the game are higher and the financial consequences of failure are more severe. Even then, Palace gave plenty of time to Trevor Francis and to Peter Taylor, and where did that get us?
You can’t just will a 'project' to succeed if the person overseeing it doesn’t have a clue on how to achieve it, and doesn’t get on with the people needed to get it done, and doesn't have the pragmatism to change his ways in different situations. Even after breaking records for poor starts, even after playing Joel Ward as a wingback, even after starting novices at centre-back in an opening game, De Boer came out after the loss at Burnley saying that 5-3-2 suited this squad best. The man had learned nothing. Talk of turning a team into Barcelona is great if you have brilliant technical players to pick.
When you have a squad of Palace’s level, it’s nothing short of madness.
Frank De Boer should be grateful he got jobs outside of Amsterdam in the first place and he will certainly struggle to get many more elsewhere now that he has been booted out of a second consecutive club after under 3 months. If Palace fans, and the Palace board, are completely honest about it we were all taken in by the name and we all made the same mistakes. We were either seduced by the memories of him playing or got away with pretending that many of us had watched more than just a handful of Ajax games in the group stages of the Champions League that he had managed. We all got excited about him based simply on a single stat about titles at a club that is easily the biggest in the poor Dutch league, without stopping to find out what the football he had played was like or what players he had available to him.
The talk was of de Boer being the perfect fusion of his two mentors, Van Gaal and Cruyff. His teams had the defensive pragmatism of van Gaal and the flair of Cruyff, purred some. This was also nonsense even if many wanted to believe it. The truth is that he had the aloofness of van Gaal and the dogmatic streak of Cruyff without the intelligence or skill of either. He failed at Inter and has now failed in the Premier League.
Palace are well rid and should never have hired him in the first place.