It’s 26 June 2017 and Crystal Palace have appointed Frank de Boer as their new manager – the Dutchman is keen to overhaul everything from recruitment to the style of play and gets started quickly by signing young, versatile defender Jairo Riedewald and changing Palace’s orthodox 4-2-3-1 into a fluid five-at-the-back.
The signs in pre-season were promising but the Eagles squad were clearly taking some time to adjust to the former Barcelona defender’s ideas – he was, after all, attempting to convert a side who had found success in playing direct football into a dominant, possession-oriented team.
The 17/18 season began and Palace were thumped 3-0 at Selhurst Park by newly-promoted Huddersfield and so that theme continued until de Boer was sacked, having been in charge for four games and 77 days – a Premier League record – at which time the Croydon outfit had been unable to find the net and sat 19th in the standings.
Many argued that the appointment was never going to work and that the style he was trying to implement meant he was doomed from the off, while others may feel that all he needed was time and that the results would soon come – indeed, the 1-0 loss to Burnley which proved to be the 48-year-old’s last game at the helm, was a marked improvement on previous performances and one which they lost solely due to individual mistakes.
Roy Hodgson is now in charge and pulled off miracles to rescue them from the drop last season, but it is interesting to imagine what could have been if Steve Parish had bit the bullet and kept de Boer on for a little while longer, despite their position in the table.
De Boer strayed from the 4-3-3 he found success with at Ajax and compromised his principles by going for a 5-3-2 at Palace, using compatriot Patrick van Aanholt and Andros Townsend as wing-backs. The former, a natural left-back, had shown already his effectiveness going forward, while the latter, a winger, has plenty of energy to get up and down.
Playing as a wing-back though, would have limited Townsend in what he could do on the front foot due to his defensive responsibilities and so it is unlikely we would have seen the number 10 that has netted seven times and chalked up three assists this season.
With the signing of Michy Batshuayi, Townsend will have far more opportunities to get on the score sheet or provide for a teammate, although the way the Dutchman wanted to utilise him means we may never have seen the Townsend we’ve seen this season had de Boer not been sacked.
De Boer showed his intentions to bring through and develop young players early on as he signed 22-year-old Riedewald from Ajax and may have spotted the talent that is Aaron Wan-Bissaka way earlier than Hodgson and co did.
The right-back broke through to the first team in February 2018, largely due to an injury sustained by Joel Ward, and is now the former England boss’ number-one choice on the right of his back four.
Had de Boer been at the helm a little longer, though, Wan-Bissaka may not have had to wait as long as he did for a call up. Conversely, de Boer’s back-five leaves no room for full-backs; Ward may not have even been in the first team to get injured in the first place and so Wan-Bissaka could still be languishing in the reserves or, worse, plying his trade elsewhere.
It was clear from the off that Christian Benteke was not cut out for the type of football that de Boer was trying to implement – the now Atlanta boss favours possession play, using lots of neat, tidy passes to create an opening and that is no style for a target man to flourish in.
Despite de Boer’s insistence that Benteke was crucial to the team, it was surely only a matter of time before it came obvious to everyone that he didn’t fit the bill and, if he couldn’t score the goals he did in the previous season, he could have been shifted in January 2018 or the summer.
Chelsea and Everton were sniffing around after the former Aston Villa man netted 17 goals in his first season in red and blue and would have undoubtedly been back in a few months later if the striker became unsettled at being shoe-horned into a team not suited to him.
The 28-year-old is still at Selhurst Park though, and de Boer is not.
Which player with “no potential” has just been named Crystal Palace’s worst ever January signing? Find out in the video below…