London (AP) – The impatience and short-term thinking in modern-day soccer was highlighted Monday when Frank de Boer was fired by Crystal Palace only four Premier League games into his task of changing the ingrained playing style of the English team.
Hours after Palace chairman Steve Parish called for “some sense” regarding the speculation surrounding De Boer’s position, the club’s board decided to end the Dutchman’s 77-day stint in charge and thanked him for his “dedication and hard work.”
Palace have lost all four of their league matches under De Boer, without even scoring a goal. The last team to make such a start in England’s top flight was Preston in 1924.
Still, it was undeniable that De Boer needed time to implement a more expansive and entertaining style of play requested by the club’s hierarchy, which is a giant leap from the pragmatism, directness and counter-attacking favored by two of Palace’s three most recent managers — Sam Allardyce and Tony Pulis.
In terms of games played, De Boer’s tenure is the shortest of any permanent manager in Premier League history.
Palace lost to Huddersfield, Liverpool and Swansea before the international break, and then 1-0 to Burnley on Sunday despite an improved display at Turf Moor which showed that De Boer’s methods might be starting to take effect.
De Boer spoke after the game of having “hope for the future,” but he won’t be part of it. British media reported that former England coach Roy Hodgson, who is 70, was in line to take over at a club where he was a youth-team player in the 1960s.
While De Boer was gaining plenty of sympathy for his plight, critics of the decision to fire him placed the blame on those who hired him in the first place. Why ask a manager to implement a new playing approach and not give him a decent opportunity to see the change through, especially after only one transfer window when De Boer was unable to bring in the kind of attacking players to suit the new style?
“You try to ask a bit of time for your work,” Chelsea manager Antonio Conte said Monday, when asked about Palace’s decision. “To finish this experience after only four games, I’m sorry for him.”
De Boer was in charge of Inter Milan in his previous job for just 84 days before being fired early last season. He didn’t even last that long in his first foray into English soccer.
As a former player and coach at Ajax and also a former Barcelona player, De Boer is wedded to a philosophy of possession and fluidity generally favored by the Dutch. It got results at Ajax — he won four straight league titles — but he has found it difficult to transfer that abroad.
Facing yet another fight to avoid relegation from the world’s richest league, Palace seem destined to lurch back to survival mode. That likely means regressing to the style of play that Allardyce and Pulis developed, namely being more obdurate at the back and hitting teams on the break.
The well-travelled Hodgson does not have a definitive preferred playing style, although his time with England from 2012-16 was marred by dull and cautious performances at major tournaments. He hasn’t coached since leaving the England job after the country’s elimination by Iceland at last year’s European Championship, and his last job as a club manager was at West Bromwich Albion from 2011-12.
Arriving on a three-year deal, De Boer had ambitions of making Palace entertaining to watch and integrating more youth-team players. Parish and the club’s American owners — David Blitzer and Josh Harris — backed this bold vision.
They have acted decisively, though maybe prematurely, in removing De Boer.