When Roy Hodgson’s achievements at Crystal Palace were being celebrated throughout his final week in charge, it became clear how tough the job is which he leaves his successor, a job made all the harder by the untimely injury to Eberechi Eze.
Working with a limited budget throughout, Hodgson steered Palace clear of relegation trouble in each of his four seasons at the helm. Replicating that achievement will not be easy for his replacement, particularly as numerous players are about to enter the final month of their contracts.
Then the news broke which will make the next Palace manager’s task harder still. On the eve of Hodgson’s final home game against Arsenal, it was announced that Eberechi Eze had ruptured his Achilles.
The attacking midfielder, who has lit up an otherwise uneventful season at Selhurst Park, faces several months on the sidelines. Even crueller is the fact that, minutes after the injury at Palace’s training ground, Eberechi Eze received a text message to say he had been included in Gareth Southgate’s provisional squad for Euro 2020.
“He fell to the floor,” Andros Townsend told talkSPORT last week. “He thought somebody kicked him, we all thought somebody kicked him because it sounded like that, as he’s turned around and realised nobody was around him, the shock started to set in as you know what it is.”
“The shock in his face when he ruptured his Achilles, it haunts me when I go to sleep at night thinking about this young player who’s probably my closest mate at the club since he’s joined, we’ve really helped each other, for him to have such a serious injury is really sad.”
His absence for a significant chunk of next season may well influence Palace’s work in the upcoming transfer market. This, needless to say, is a huge summer for the club. Townsend, Christian Benteke, Gary Cahill, Joel Ward, Nathaniel Clyne and James McCarthy are among the players facing uncertain futures. Townsend has revealed offers from elsewhere. He is probably not alone in having received them.
Crystal Palace intend to give the final say to their new manager but that will depend upon an appointment being made soon. Steve Cooper, Sean Dyche and Eddie Howe are among the names under consideration by chairman Steve Parish and Dougie Freedman, the sporting director. Frank Lampard is unlikely to get the job, despite earlier reports that he was the frontrunner.
Whoever takes the reins in south London will be busy from day one. Deciding the future of Benteke will be among the first items on the table. The Belgian was much improved in 2020/21, reaching double figures for goals for the first time since his debut campaign at the club. Yet he turns 31 in December and earns a six-figure weekly salary. Whether that money would be better spent elsewhere is something Hodgson’s successor, together with Freedman and Parish, must determine.
If he does depart a new striker will be required, with Michy Batshuayi unlikely to return for a third loan spell. The new manager will likely want more energy and dynamism in midfield. Another winger would be welcome too, regardless of whether Townsend stays. Cover for Tyrick Mitchell at left-back may be desired, as Patrick van Aanholt bids farewell to Palace. A younger centre-half should also be a priority, with Cahill, Scott Dann and James Tomkins all over 30.
Then there is Eberechi Eze. The former QPR man brought a much-needed dose of creativity to the team in his first season, allowing Wilfried Zaha to refocus his efforts on the final third. With his elastic hips and captivating swagger, Eze helped Crystal Palace progress the ball up the pitch while knitting the play together from back to front.
It will be difficult to find a like-for-like stand-in for the first few months of next season, but Crystal Palace must come up with a way to replace his invention and guile. If not, Hodgson’s successor could very quickly find himself under pressure.
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