Frank de Boer’s revolution is well under way at Palace after arriving as manager at the end of June, but which players will fall victim to his new Dutch styled system?
Fresh from the rumours this morning that Joel Ward has rejected a new four-year deal at the club, the most surprising thing to ask would be why is he being offered fresh terms? It’s pretty clear from the pre-season matches under de Boer that Ward is no longer favoured, in particular with the new 3-4-3 formation. The right wing-back role requires a player with confidence, pace and quality on the ball in defensive and offensive positions. Ward has been a steady performer for Palace in his five years at the club and is greatly adored by the supporters of the club. Yet, as the club continues to grow with each passing Premier League season, the standards and expectations rise. With the money in the game today, any signs of weakness in a top level side should be quickly replaced. It’s fair to say Ward has performed below-par in the last 18 months and has been culpable for many a poor performance. As consistently hard-working and modest a professional he has been for the club, his weaknesses have exposed the team to near relegation in the past two seasons. Pace, variety and confidence on the ball have unfortunately never been Ward’s expertise. Although he would probably be better suited for one of the three centre-back positions or defensive midfield areas, the time may have sadly come for all parties to move on. As romantic as it’ll be to keep hold of Ward as a solid back-up player, the club owe it to him to help progress his career elsewhere. Potentially any bottom-half Premier League team would take him on in his preferred system. As a South Coast boy, he may fancy a move to Bournemouth or somebody similar (just not Brighton).
A similar type of player to Ward, Martin Kelly has had a turbulent 18 months or so at Palace since the collapse under the Pardew regime. Brought in by Tony Pulis on the day he left the club, Kelly was a mixed bag under Neil Warnock until being ousted by Pardew for the majority of his tenure. A respected back-up option in the eyes of many Palace fans, unfortunately Kelly doesn’t seem to have the correct style to suit de Boer’s philosophy. Although he was unfairly exposed as a right-footed left-back in the torrid months of late 2016, Kelly doesn’t fill many with confidence on the ball in defensive areas. He seriously lacks any pace or agility to be the supposed right-back he is, but as a centre-back he was immense under Allardyce. A resilient defender but not much of a ball player. Many a time he was found guilty of squandering possession in key areas and costing the team goals. Unless like Ward he’s prepared to continue as a reliable squad player, de Boer surely won’t fancy Kelly in his new-look starting eleven. A year left on his contract also offers Palace a chance to raise a fee, with interested parties most likely aplenty. Pulis may fancy him again at West Brom, or a side like Burnley or Huddersfield could use his versatility.
A spearhead cult-hero in Palace’s rise through to Premier League stability, ‘Damo’ has been a truly inspirational figure for the club through the good and bad times. Like Ward, he signed in 2012 with not any expectation as Palace faced the prospect of relegation to League One. Instead, he became a backbone to our promotion and has defied all expectations to still be standing as a Premier League centre-back five years later. Rather expectedly, Delaney has slowly struggled with the increasingly high levels he faces each week. As a 36-year old defender up against the most powerful athletes attacking his goal, he was always going to become a weak link. De Boer’s philosophy of bringing through a youthful looking team may seem obvious in the long-term, but Delaney’s experience and authority remain vital to dressing room morale. After signing a one-year extension towards the end of last season, Delaney will be retained for his influence in the background. Similar to Speroni, a club icon deserves to be respected and de Boer will give him just that. Just don’t expect him to play much of a part, particularly after the impressive capture of his long-term replacement Jairo Riedewald. The Dutch international will provide what Delaney can no longer; youth, energy, ball retention, potential and fresh impetus.
Another hugely popular player amongst the Palace faithful, ‘Jimmy Mac’ arrived three years ago in a then club-record deal for £7 million from Wigan Athletic. A hard-working, loyal and committed midfielder, McArthur never leaves anything on the field and wears his heart on his sleeve. Unfortunately, he has greatly suffered with injury set backs in his time in SE25. Yet when fully fit, he is formidable up and down the pitch in support of defence and attack. Given the new 3-4-3 system now only requires two central midfield players, McArthur may find his place hard to come by in de Boer’s midfield. With the arrival of Ruben Loftus-Cheek added to the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Jason Puncheon and Luka Milivojevic, it’s difficult to see where McArthur will fit in. He may possess the attributes of the industrial midfield player de Boer craves, but there are factors which will play against him. With his age, contract situation and inconsistent availability, Palace may well cash in knowing there will be many clubs after his signature. Aston Villa and Burnley have previously been linked, although any bottom-half side may come in for him.
As the most unlikely of the five, Tomkins’ future has come into question in recent weeks after being left out of the starting eleven in pre-season matches. Another player who has greatly struggled with injury problems, it may just be a case of not being fully fit for ‘Tonks’. A £10 million arrival from West Ham only last summer, Tomkins does possess decent enough attributes as a ball-playing centre-half for de Boer. Yet, in the long-term, would de Boer want somebody more suitable and perhaps slightly more agile? You would like to think he wouldn’t leave if Palace are to improve their inadequate squad depth, but the rumours linking the club to Calum Chambers would most likely displace him from the XI. Many Premier League teams would be interested in Tomkins, but expect him to force his way back into the reckoning. A reliable and consistent performer who fits the Palace ethos.
As difficult as it is seeing club heroes leave, it is part and parcel of football evolution. Playing staff change, managerial staff change, football clubs change; but we as the fans stay, and must support whoever and whatever happens next. Up the Palace!