Why Crystal Palace fans should be careful what they wish for
(Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

When Kevin Phillips sent Crystal Palace into the Premier League in 2013, no one could have predicted that the Eagles would have found themselves frustrated with mid-table mediocracy eight years on, teetering between the precipice of the drop zone and a top-half finish. 

However, Eagles' fans desire an exciting team to watch, one that promises to shepherd them to success, leaving behind the days of stagnation. 

But the Croydon faithful forget that there is still a steep aberration between the quality of football in 'The Big Six' compared to the rest of the league. If a change were to happen; it will not be swift. 

The American ownership, under the guidance of Steve Parish, have found their safety net through the stewardship of Roy Hodgson and, if they were to change the direction of the club, Palace could find themselves plummeting to new catastrophic depths, like some of their former Premier League rivals.

For the pendulum to swing in Palace's favour, it will not be an easy task. The club could choose the route of Wolverhampton Wanderers, or the downward slope of Stoke City

  • Wolverhampton Wanderers - A desirable rebuild 

In 2013, the same year Palace found themselves lifted to the Premier League, Wolverhampton Wanderers fell into League One after yielding to defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion

What followed was a rebuild that catapulted Wolves out of the third division, out of the second after a few attempts, and back into the top-flight for the first time since 2012.

Many critics will claim that their rebuild was done solely through financial backing, but many clubs can take a leaf out of their book to mount an impressive rebuild themselves.

Selling deadwood players with good reputation and signing players that fit their system for a fraction of the price was the transfer policy in the early stages. 

A simple but effective change in policy harvested success straight from the start for the then League One outfit. Selling high reputable players and signing players that would use the club as a stepping stone is a tactic not often used by Premier League clubs, but perhaps should.

The process of signing younger talents helped Wolves on their way to a record points total in a League One season in their first episode of a rebuild. 

Having to deal with their midland rivals enjoy success in the Premier League, Wolves were determined to establish a renaissance. After a couple of mediocre seasons in the Championship, the club's most decisive moment came in 2016, when a Chinese investment group, Fosun International, bought the club.

Financial backing, along with their affiliation with world-class agent Jorge Mendes, Wolves garnered a lot of success on the market. Though signings such as that of Diogo Jota and Ruben Neves clearly carved an opening for a meteoric rise, the lower league figures also helped massively.

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Though the club now boasted an embarrassment of riches, players such as Conor Coady and Ryan Bennett, the first of which is still a regular in the lineup, were crucial to keeping the squad spine together on and off the pitch.

And, despite the financial backing having a big impetus on their triumphs, Wolves recruited players that fit the system, each transfer was done meticulously.

The problem that a lot of clubs have faced in their road to glory is that they have spent big but on the wrong players. For Nuno Espirito Santos and Wolves, they have found their balance in players who keep the dressing room in high spirit, youth that injects a new wave of talent for future use and development, players that are leaders, and superstars who get the limelight. 

While Fulham and Cardiff found themselves drop straight back down in Wolves' first season back in the top-flight, Nuno and his men thrived in balance. 

Through Wolves' rebuild, Palace can learn that the quality of signings is very important; though a player may have a good reputation, this does not always equal a good fit for a particular team. A lot of players signed by Wolves have also not made an instant impact, but have grown into the starting lineup slowly. This is a testament to the fact that the squad spine must be kept and first-team signings are often kept minimal. 

  • Stoke City - ambitiously atrocious

Fans of Stoke City embellished the reputation they had established as a team that was hard to beat in the Premier League, claiming that the worlds best players could never do it on a 'Cold wet windy Tuesday night in Stoke.' 

Defensively robust for so many years, Stoke's 10-year stay in the topflight of English football came crashing down when fans of the club, similar to that of Eagles' fans, became too ambitious.

Having finished 9th in the league three times in a row between 2013 and 2016, fans of the Potters became restless when they finished 13th in the following season.

The ambition is the key reason to Stoke's miserable demise from Premier League mainstays to Championship strugglers. Their transfer policy was based on reputation rather than quality, and their abandonment of defensive structure inevitably cost them.

Squad spine and chemistry was thrown out the window in the summer of 2017, with Mark Hughes given the freedom to spend big in an attempt to mount a fight for European football.

A big squad shuffle started with departures of the likes of Marko Arnautovic, Phil Bardsley, Joselu, Glenn Whelan, and Jonathan Walters. Many of these departures were key figures in the dressing room, keeping the gel in the squad present. 

While key figures left, some big names joined. Coming into the team were Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, Darren Fletcher, Bruno Martins Indi, Kurt Zouma, and Jese. These star-studded names, along with the already high reputable Xherdan Shaqiri, brought excitement to Potters'  fans.

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However, most of Stoke's high reputable superstars failed to shine, causing financial strain through high wages, and even more worrying performance problems. Mark Hughes and his fans wanted too much too soon and it cost Stoke City a spot in the Premier League.

Having so many players come and go in one summer was always risky. Changing the whole dressing room atmosphere would have cost any club. While Wolves kept their squad spine relatively intact, aiming to improve step by step, Stoke forced a rebuild.

Furthermore, the transition from defensive football to offensive football also hurt Stoke City's chances of manoeuvring a successful rebuild. During the transition, Hughes forgot to stick to his defensive roots.

Despite the signing of Kurt Zouma, the departure of leaders meant that Stoke failed to keep their compact shape and maintain their ferociously unshakable personality.

In other words, Stoke City had lost its reputation of being difficult to beat over the course of one transfer window and became fickle.

  • Lessons to learn for Crystal Palace

As quickly as Palace fans want to transform their mid-table mediocracy, ambition could lead to damage. There are signs that the club is moving towards an ambitious future, but it must be done step by step.

While fortune favours the brave, Stoke City was punished for applying that ethos. The Eagles will hope that the fortune that Wolves will swing in their favour sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, a few changes could be made.

Transfers made in the summer window this season have performed well. Nathaniel Clyne and Eberechi Eze have fit perfectly into the system without affecting the squad morale, which is promising for the South London club.

The main priority for Hodgson will be to keep the dressing room atmosphere in good spirit, bringing in fresh faces that fit the system, and keeping senior figures among the ranks.

Looking at signings in the Championship could also suit Hodgson well if he were to delve into the market again; Eberechi Eze is a testament to this.

The hierarchy also has a big decision to make in the summer regarding Hodgson's contract. The question is whether they stick or twist. 

Hodgson is the oldest manager in the Premier League and his contract runs out in summer, but he has set the ball rolling for a transition among the Crystal Palace ranks for a more ambitious outlook.

Do the owner's stick with their safety net for another couple seasons to safely build an exciting team, or do they undo Hodgson's adjustments and opt for a fresh face at the helm?

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