Crystal Palace gamble on Frank de Boer, but it's a risk worth taking
Confirmation that Frank de Boer is the new manager at Crystal Palace has come not a moment too soon. The supporters were beginning to lose patience. An innocent tweet from the club's social media account on Wednesday, an apparently harmless picture of the training ground bathed in sunshine, brought an unexpected response. What followed was a cascade of tweets from fans begging for a new manager to be announced.
You can understand their anxiety. It has been an unsettling 18 months for Palace supporters and they yearn for stability. It hasn't been a disastrous 18 months, mind you -- not even close compared to the horrors of administration that they experienced in the recent past -- but certainly a worrying period all the same. In the week before Christmas 2015, Palace were flying high in the Premier League, sitting sixth with an impressive nine wins already. But they would win only two more games that season, ending up in 15th place, just five points clear of the drop zone.
There was at least the consolation of an FA Cup run, and three glorious minutes at the final in Wembley Stadium when they led Manchester United and manager Alan Pardew danced on the touchline, but that was the final flourish of his reign (Palace lost to United 2-1). Palace won just four points from a possible 30 through the winter of the 2016-17 season, and Pardew was sacked three days before Christmas. Sam Allardyce was parachuted in to save the day, but it was 36 days before his first win and 61 days before his second. Palace survived but were still in the relegation fight until the end of the penultimate day of the season. And with that, Allardyce retired.
De Boer is a very interesting choice for Palace, a club that had become known as one of the last sanctuaries of the unfashionable British manager. With the exception of Irishman Curtis Fleming's brief caretaker spell in 2012, only one man from outside the United Kingdom has ever managed this club: Attilio Lombardo, for seven games in 1998. Remember that when De Boer's arrival sparks the inevitable pundit backlash against foreign managers.
But De Boer is also an interesting choice because until quite recently, he was one of Europe's hottest properties. The 47-year-old Dutchman won four Eredivisie titles in five and a half years with Ajax Amsterdam and was frequently mooted as Arsene Wenger's most likely replacement at Arsenal.
It wasn't simply his trophy collection that won admirers. Ajax played attractive, attacking football, and De Boer was keen to promote young players whenever possible. The current Tottenham defensive pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld came to prominence under De Boer; so did their teammate, Christian Eriksen. For any major club seeking to reassert themselves as a successful team as well as an admirable team, he was always on the short list.
Unfortunately for De Boer, when he did finally make the jump from the Eredivisie, he landed in Serie A with troubled giants Internazionale. He had told his new employers that he required time to lay down the foundations for the future but received just three months. Considered to be the unimpeachable solution when he arrived, it took just 84 days before he was instead judged to be the problem and was unceremoniously removed.
And here is that most illogical aspect of managerial recruitment. When De Boer left Ajax, he was in the top bracket of his industry. Now, with no disrespect intended to his new employers, he finds himself rather lower down the food chain. And all for 84 days of disappointment. But is he a worse manager than he was last year? It's unlikely. If anything, his short period in the Milanese hothouse will have proved a most instructive experience, something he will take to South London. Palace can count themselves very fortunate.
De Boer will once again call for patience in this new role. Under Pardew, Allardyce and their predecessors, Neil Warnock and Tony Pulis, Palace were hardly the sort of possession-first aesthetes that De Boer favours, and it will take time for the existing squad to adjust to his requirements. There is plenty of talent; Wilfried Zaha is a Champions League-level footballer, while Christian Benteke and Andros Townsend, at their best, are not far off. The defence needs a lot of work (Palace have shipped 165 league goals in their last 114 games) but there is plenty of money to spend.
It's hard to escape the conclusion that while chairman Steve Parish has worried Palace's supporters by taking his time over this appointment, that time has been well-spent. Everyone stands to win here. The Eagles have signed a manager with a history of successful attacking football, while De Boer has a club that will give him the chance to reassert his talents. Now that this hire is confirmed, expect the reaction on social media to be far more positive.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.