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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Crystal Palace end Frank De Boer mismatch and revert to type with safety-first Roy Hodgson

Dutchman leaves Selhurst Park after just 77 days in charge that included four Premier League games, four defeats and no goals scored. 

Frank De Boer has left Crystal Palace after just 77 days in charge. Andrew Yates / Reuters
Frank De Boer has left Crystal Palace after just 77 days in charge. Andrew Yates / Reuters

It was, word for word, the same sentence. Frank de Boer ended two answers to questions in what proved his final press conference as Crystal Palace manager with “that gives me a lot of hope for the future”. His own future became clearer around 18 hours later.

De Boer was dismissed. His four-game reign is the shortest in Premier League history. He is the only permanent appointment to go without even seeing his side score. It was a spell of unprecedented ignominy.

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It was concluded with undue haste. A manager who lasted 85 days at Inter Milan survived only 77 at Selhurst Park. It is clear Palace panicked, and it is notable that chairman Steve Parish has seemed quicker to sack managers since American billionaires Josh Harris and David Blitzer became investors.

That does not necessarily make them wrong to axe De Boer, brutal as their actions were. Sometimes it is best to recognise a mistake quickly and remedy it.

Managers invariably deserve time but, with Chelsea and the Manchester clubs among their next four opponents, one scenario was that, had De Boer stayed, Palace would have found themselves pointless after eight games, 10 or 12 points adrift of potential relegation rivals like Burnley, Huddersfield Town and Newcastle United. His football was plodding, but his departure was accelerated.

De Boer and Palace were a stylistic mismatch. The flattering interpretation is that his ideas were too ambitious for a team accustomed to playing without the ball. The alternative explanation is that some were too odd, that he was too reminiscent of Louis van Gaal, where sideways passing is followed by a recourse to going direct with precious little purism.

De Boer’s Palace, like Van Gaal’s Manchester United, helped illustrate how the principles of Dutch football have become warped.

And so instead Palace seem certain to turn to a manager who presided over one of England’s darkest days. Roy Hodgson’s last match in charge was a defeat to Iceland.

Like De Boer, he is scarred by his past. He now appears Palace’s future, a man of a different generation, a different nationality and a different ethos summoned as the experiment with the exotic is abandoned. It is the safety-first approach of retreating to what you know and Palace are accustomed to British managers who keep them up.

Hodgson was miscast when put in charge of England and Liverpool. Perhaps he is better operating with limited players and lesser expectations; he prospered in such circumstances at Fulham.

Palace may resort to their familiar formula of functional football clean sheets and set-pieces, leaving De Boer’s reign as an aberration and the discarded Dutchman as the answer to many a quiz question.