Frank De Boer's 77 days at Crystal Palace
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After controversial ex-England manager and survival specialist, Sam Allardyce, left Palace unexpectedly in the summer of 2017, there was a question about who would take the hot seat next.    

Allardyce's departure allowed Palace to attempt to put distance between the club and the stalwart firefighter survival specialists, whose main aim was to stay in the division at all costs. 

There was a shortlist drawn up of exciting managers across the continent who could come in and try to take Palace to the next level.

The names were whittled down to two, with the first being the then Alaves manager Mauricio Pellegrino. The former Liverpool centre back and Argentina international was attracting a lot of interest from Premier League outfits, having taken the Basque side to a Copa Del Rey final the season prior, only to lose to Barcelona 3-1. Pellegrino had also guided the newly promoted outfit to a comfortable 9th place in La Liga.    

The other name to whet the appetite of the Palace board was former Ajax, Barcelona and Rangers defender, Frank De Boer. The centre back had ventured into the world of management after an illustrious career. 

De Boer was the man for the job 

Steve Parish and Co. opted for the man whose career was based around winning trophies and competing at the highest level.  Frank De Boer was appointed Crystal Palace manager on a three year deal in the summer of 2017. Pellegrino would still make it to the Premier League arriving at Southampton the same summer. 

De Boer had proved that he could manage at the top level following a successful spell at Ajax, the club where De Boer made his name as a player, where, almost six years under his stewardship, Ajax won four Eredivisie titles in succession. This was the first time a manager in the history of the competition had achieved this accolade.  

The Champions League winner was made manager of Inter Milan in the summer of 2016. However De Boer failed to adapt to Serie A. In wake of a poor Europa League campaign, and a mediocre start to the league, De Boer was sacked after only 85 days in charge of the Nerazzurri. De Boer tweeted, “To carry out this project needed more time." 

Nevertheless, with his attractive style of play, and with his stock in football still being high even after the Inter Milan disaster, De Boer's appointment was lauded throughout the Premier League

The start of the season 

As the Premier League season came to fruition, the buzz around Selhurst Park was infectious; there was a vast amount of optimism in anticipation of how of Frank De Boer would bring possession-based, attacking football to South East London.

With Leicester City's unthinkable Premier League winning season still fresh in the minds of the footballing world, there was a feeling that the Premier League old guard were losing their grasp on the top positions and there was no reason why Crystal Palace couldn't try and break the mould themselves.  

Newly promoted Huddersfield Town was De Boer's first challenge. The football played by Crystal Palace that day was ultimately a total shambles; Palace were humiliated by David Wagner's side and fell to a 3-0 loss. However the phrase, 'Rome wasn't built in a day', seemed fitting, with De Boer's project a long term plan with players still finding their feet in the system.

A narrow 1-0 loss away to Liverpool followed, then a lacklustre 2-0 defeat at home to Swansea piled the pressure on De Boer. Quickly, Palace found themselves cemented in the bottom three without a single point to their name and failing to find the net in over 270 minutes of football.

This brought expectations crashing down and resigned Palace fans to a potential fight yet again to stay in the division. 

The Carabao Cup provided De Boer with his first win in the hot seat at Palace. The Eagles beat Championship side Ipswich Town 2-1 courtesy of a James McArthur brace, and there was a willingness to take the performance into the Premier League.    

Nevertheless, De Boer was still on thin ice. A trip to Burnley was make-or-break for the former Barcelona centre back. Having abandoned the 3-4-3 formation that the squad had been struggling adapting to, De Boer was hopeful his Palace side could see out a their first points of the season, and in addition, also break the goal duck that had been looming over their heads.

Palace lost 1-0 and looked bereft of ideas in front of goal. The defeat left Steve Parish no other choice than to let the Dutchman go. The experiment had failed. 

This gave De Boer the unwanted record of managing the fewest Premier League games ever before being sacked; the closest to De Boer was Les Reed at Charlton, who reached seven competitive fixtures managed before receiving his marching orders.  

After 77 days in charge, and one day after the Burnley game, De Boer was sacked. He said on social media that he was, "Very disappointed about the decision but nevertheless I want to thank the players, staff and the fans for their support. Good luck for the future."

Why De Boer failed 

It was clear that De Boer's style of play did not fit the players he had at his disposal. Whether it was De Boer’s or Palace’s owners’ decision to try and change the club’s ethos and the style of play that had been developed in previous seasons, it would need a substantial amount of money to achieve this. 

Palace brought in two year loan signings in midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea, and defender, Timothy Fuso-Mensah, from Manchester United. De Boer also brought in Jairo Riedewald on a permanent deal, believed to have cost around £8 million from his previous side, Ajax.

There was the deadline day signing of defender Mamadou Sakho from Liverpool, but how much influence De Boer had on that signing is up for debate. Nevertheless, there were still massive parts of the jigsaw of the 'total football’ that De Boer wanted to play that were missing. 

Another reason why De Boer failed was due to star player. Wilfried Zaha, sustaining a knee injury against Huddersfield on the opening day of the season, leaving De Boer without the Eagles wide man. This would be a huge blow to any new manager coming to the club due to Zaha’s importance to the side. 

One thing that managers in the Premier League do not receive any more of is time. If De Boer had stayed and been given more games, it would have been interesting to see how the season might have panned out. 

At Ajax, De Boer was able to bring through prospects from Ajax's celebrated youth academy to develop into top quality players. During his six year period as manager, De Boer handed debuts to now Napoli striker Arkadiusz Milik, Valencia goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen, and star of Ajax's Champions League campaign last season Donny Van De Beek, who has been touted as a future Real Madrid player. 

De Boer had time to develop players at Ajax, but in the Premier League and at a historic club like Inter Milan, managers are expected to hit the ground running. There is no room for sentiment or developing youth products to appease the fans, results are what managers are judged on. 

In hindsight, it took De Boer too long to understand the squad he was dealing with. His philosophy was not suited to the players he had at his disposal; he tried to shoehorn players into positions they were not comfortable with; for example Andros Townsend at wing-back, or Luka Milivojevic at centre back. 

De Boer also burnt bridges with experienced members of the squad, banishing Damien Delaney to train with the academy. This would not have helped his cause with squad harmony or fan support, ultimately leaving himself out to dry for all to see. 

Roy Hodgson arrived one day after De Boer had left and comfortably kept Palace in the division. Pellegrino, the other potential candidate, ended up being sacked by Southampton the same season after only winning one game in seventeen and nose diving the Saints into the Championship. Mark Hughes would eventually keep Southampton in the Premier League. 

Frank De Boer, after being described by Jose Mourinho as, "the worst manager in the history of the Premier League", found a new home in the MLS with Atlanta United, and De Boer is enjoying his second season in the USA, with his side currently being top of their league after two games before Coronavirus brought a halt to the season. 

Palace will be facing this scenario in the not too distant future. Roy Hodgson has signed a one year contract extension, but after next season is expected to retire following a long career in the game. The Palace board will be facing the question of who will be the next manager of the club, hoping that another Frank De Boer fiasco won't occur next time around. 

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