I heard a disturbing story this Christmas about a parent who likes to play a trick on their child on a yearly basis. It has happened so many times now that it has become a family tradition.
It is a simple hoax. Amongst all the presents under the Christmas tree sits a grandly decorated gift, standing out majestically amongst the festive decorations. Its wrapping paper alone demands it is to be ripped off. However, once the paper is discarded of it becomes apparent that underneath the colourful wrapping is an empty box. A cruel joke if played on a young child but one that nonetheless is a perfect metaphor to describe Crystal Palace FC at the minute.
Two weeks into the New Year and my beloved football club is sitting ninth in the best league in the world and is currently at the time of writing only three points off 5th. I should be buzzing. But like that trick-present at Christmas, I have a horrible feeling that our league position is hiding a harsh reality which will end our Premier League adventure in the near future.
Firstly, our squad is ageing rapidly and it has been a long while since it felt like the club have a properly well-thought-out transfer policy, strategically attempting to address this issue. When Zaha is one of our youngest players at the age of 27, we have to conclude that we need younger blood added to the squad, whether from transfers or from our academy. The emergence of Brandon Pierrick has been welcome, but we desperately need to see more players like him under the age of 25 scattered amongst the first team.
Our transfer policy this season has been nothing short of disgraceful. Roy Hodgson, usually such a pragmatic manager, is becoming increasingly frustrated and vocal about his lack of options and who can blame him? Some supporters bemoan his conservative style of play but quite frankly, with the squad he has at his disposal, what he has achieved so far this season is miraculous. If anyone deserves cash to invest in the first team playing squad it is him but none seems to be forthcoming.
Which leads me one to my second point. Where are the Americans and where has the money for AWB gone? This summer we received over £50m for a full back. We spent only £3m of it when it was clear we needed significant strengthening. That lack of planning has come back to bite us on the bum with our current injury list. We would certainly be a lot healthier now had we had a decent striker and couple of fullbacks added to the squad in the summer. But we failed to fill these gaps and a glorious opportunity to challenge for Europe is likely to pass us by. I cannot see how we can maintain the start we have made.
Make no mistake, our talisman in Wilfried Zaha wants out. Having bought my boy the CPFC calendar for Xmas, I’m hoping Zaha is still with us in January, bearing in mind he is the face of that month. I like to think the board would keep on to Wilf until the summer but I’m not convinced the Americans particularly care. I mean seriously, where are they? Are they wanting to sell as some have suggested in the media? If so, are we right to assume that they simply don’t give a damn any longer and are refusing to put their hands in their pockets?
But this isn’t just about the money and lack of investment. It is also about how we are genuinely going to make forward strides if there are problems behind the scenes. The future, post-Zaha, looks dire. We had a taste of that against Derby. If Wilf goes and we fail to identify players who can step-up to fill the massive void in his absence, we will be relegation certainties. And the board will have nobody else to blame but themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I have huge respect for Steve Parish and genuinely believe he wants what is best for the club. But his hands appeared tied. Like all Palace fans I hope I am wrong, but something just doesn’t seem right at the minute.
Of course, I hope I end up with massive egg on my face once this article is published. Who knows, by then we may have secured a couple more transfer coups; Pierrick’s career will have taken off in spectacular fashion (confirming he is the new Messi); Wilf signs a twenty-year contract; the academy gains Category 1 status and the Selhurst re-development suddenly gets the thumbs up.
Sadly, the reality is that none of the above is likely to happen (apart from Pierrick confirming he is the GOAT). If we are not proactive soon we will be sleep-walking towards the championship with a squad full of older players claiming the fattest of all wages. It is a recipe for disaster and something that needs to be addressed quickly. If it isn’t, our future looks seriously bleak.