Crystal Palace’s meeting with Chelsea on Saturday brings back fond memories for Roy Hodgson. It was against them, in October 2017, that he won his first Premier League victory as Palace manager.
“I sometimes think it’s my first game, but it wasn’t, it was my fourth game,” he said. Sky Sports with a small laugh. “It was just the first time we had a result so I don’t think too much of the others.”
Hodgson can laugh about it now but Palace was in dire straits back then. Frank de Boer’s tenure had only lasted 77 days, and Hodgson’s had also started in an unsuccessful way. Palace have sat down at the foot of the Premier League table without a point or even a goal in seven games. “People were telling us,” Hodgson recalls.
They were still in the bottom three when they face Chelsea five months later, but since that afternoon in March 2018 they haven’t even set foot in the relegation zone.
Palace went on to finish 11th in Hodgson’s debut season and four years later they are 12th, again immune to the downfall and an image of stability in the ever-changing Premier League landscape.
“Unfortunately, winners these days are only considered winners if they have a particular trophy to show or if they are participating in the Champions League or the Europa League,” Hodgson said.
“But there is a tremendous amount of work going on in the clubs where they are winning their own trophies. They are winning trophies that are difficult for them to obtain, but no one recognizes them as trophies.”
Admittedly, there are plenty of clubs that must envy the way Palace has consolidated its position in the Premier League in recent years, a feat made all the more impressive by a budget and level of spending surpassed by those of their rivals.
Since Hodgson’s appointment, Palace are in fact the only one of the 13 Premier League sides still present to have made a transfer profit. It is confirmed out of necessity, but it is often overlooked in estimates of the time Hodgson spent in charge.
“Maybe it’s overlooked, but that’s okay,” he says. “The work you do is based on what you have available.
“I have been fortunate that the players I have had who have been available to do the job and try to get the results have been good, so why regret or succumb to any wishful thinking it could have been better? There is no guarantee that it would have been anyway.
“We’ve been pretty good with our free transfer players and we’ve also had some really good loans, so it’s not just about the transfer fees. four seasons and saw us achieve our goals. “
Indeed, nine of the players who started Hodgson’s first victory at the helm against Chelsea in 2017 are still at the club now, many of them including Wilfried Zaha, Joel Ward and Patrick van Aanholt, in line to start against the same. opponent on Saturday. .
“The president and the athletic director never hinted that it was going to be easy, that they had money to spend and give me a new team,” Hodgson said. “It was always going to be about working hard and sticking with what we have.
“But I think these players deserve a lot more credit than they sometimes get, and from my perspective, I think I will always consider the last four seasons at Crystal Palace to be one of the best working groups that I have. I have. done in my career.
“I have to say that winning five successive championships with Malmo FF was a hell of a show easier than keeping Crystal Palace in the Premier League for four seasons.”
Hodgson delivers the last line with a smile and he remains optimistic when asked about the rising expectations of palace supporters. A by-product of avoiding relegation year after year is that fans’ appetite for the next step grows.
“I don’t see it as frustrating,” Hodgson says. “It’s human nature. Maybe it’s even positive. I’m not suggesting for a single minute that anyone at the club should rest on their laurels and brag, ‘next year will be the ninth season that we have. have had in the Premier League, what a fantastic thing ”.
“I think you have to accept that people will always want more, but I think we’ve established a very solid foundation. I don’t think we’re seen as a newcomer more. I think people now consider Crystal Palace. like a good The Premier League team that knows what they’re doing.
“So it’s normal to think, ‘we want the next thing, we want to move on, we want to be sure that we can finish between 10th and 6th place in the table, and if we get to that point, we will want to move on. even further and we expect European football ”.
I think we have established a very solid foundation. I don’t think we are seen as newcomers any more. I think people now see Crystal Palace as a good Premier League side who know what they’re doing.
“Unfortunately in my four seasons it hasn’t been possible to go forward and give people that, because at the end of the day football is about results and to get results, you need a certain pragmatism.
“Philosophies, ideas and principles are important factors in your work, but you also need to have a pragmatic element because unfortunately no matter what you do in the field you will only get credit for it if it gives. a result.
“So you have to marry these two things. It is a constant marriage that you have to take into account.
“But I hope that in the coming seasons the club will continue and we will find it easier and easier to stay in the league and as a result we will look to finish much higher than we have been able to. last seasons. “
Portakabins and silent stadiums
Hodgson uses the pronoun ‘we’ in relation to next season – he was born and raised after all Croydon – but the 73-year-old is due to come to the end of his Palace contract this summer and has put all the talk about his future on hold until the end of the current campaign.
It remains to be seen whether he will extend his contract or leave the club, but whatever happens next he will always remember the 45th year of his remarkable managerial career as one.
“The pandemic has changed everything tremendously because one of the things that keeps us going in football is the adrenaline and energy that we get from the crowd and what that causes in us. The home fans push us; the supporters distant people are trying to get us out of the game.
“All of those integral parts of the game have been taken away. A lot of times we have been changed in portakabins and even in presidents’ lounges, but then we are still walking the pitch and preparing for a game that is going to be at the highest level possible. .
“The quality of the football hasn’t dropped dramatically, strangely enough, but it all happened in a surreal atmosphere, where you can hear a pin drop, you can hear every word that is spoken and every exhortation that is shouted from the sidelines. “
Hodgson’s love for the game isn’t in question – his longevity is proof of that – but have the circumstances of the past year affected his enthusiasm for the job?
He pauses to consider the matter. “I guess the diplomatic response to that is it didn’t affect the enthusiasm or anything like that, but it probably wouldn’t be 100% true.
“We are human beings and as human beings we depend on a lot of outside influences and a lot of things going on around us to give us a little more energy and enthusiasm.
I will always consider the last four seasons at Crystal Palace to be one of the best jobs I have done in my career.
“I think it’s been a big test of our professionalism and dedication to football, to make sure these games are played – and at the level at which we want them to be played.
“I think this season and the nine games leading up to it during Project Restart have asked a lot more of us and I think all of us, if we were to be brutally honest, would say it’s not the same and it shook our enthusiasm on time.
“It is good for all of us players, clubs and coaches that football can now return to a certain level of normalcy, but the people who will benefit the most will be the supporters, many of whom base their lives to some extent on work and play., and for many of them, “playing” means following their teams and going to matches.
“It’s great that they were able to do it via TV because otherwise they wouldn’t have had it at all, but they must have desperately missed the experience of being there.
“It’s like watching a movie on your TV versus watching a movie in the theater, or watching a play versus going to the theater to watch it, or going to a pop concert.
“You do not need to go to a pop concert to see your favorite band or listen to their latest song, but you want to go because then you feel like you are part of something. For me, this is what we missed. “
Watch Crystal Palace vs Chelsea live on Sky Sports Premier League HD from 5pm Saturday; kick-off 5:30 p.m.