Between now and the start of the season, we’ll be writing up all twenty of the Premier League clubs before it all kicks off again. If you’re here looking for the very latest transfer gossip, though, you’ll likely be disappointed. Quite asides from anything else, it’s the third week in July (a necessity borne of the fact that these have got to be written around work commitments, amongst much else), so most of the transfer rumours circulating at the moment are the result of the fevered imaginations of the sort of fifteen year-olds who spend their lives on Twitter pretending to be agents. Others will be along in the coming weeks to fill you in on that sort of thing.
The numbers, of course, don’t add up. There will, as ever, be twenty clubs in next season’s Premier League and next May three of them – presuming, of course, that no-one suggests the fantastic idea of stopping promotion and relegation between the Premier League and the Football League again – will definitely be relegated. This much we know for certain, and that fear of relegation has become more marked in recent years as coverage of the division has become increasingly shrill. Relegation is no longer a concept which is marked by a shrugging of the shoulders and a throw-away remark about the consolation prize of it being likely that you’ll win more matches the following season. The television cameras will pan the stands of clubs that have failed to make the grade on the last day of next season, searching for grown men (preferably – children will suffice if none are available) crying. Relegation now matters. It has to. Or at least Sky Sports News will be telling us this on an hourly basis for the next ten months.
Different clubs will have different levels of hope and expectation for the coming months, but for the supporters of Crystal Palace the target is a simple if fiendish one: find a way of finishing above that dotted line near the foot of the table, by whatever means necessary. It is traditional to write off newly-promoted clubs at this time of year. According to The Lazy Hack’s Book Of Pre-Season Preview Writing, if you pick all three of them to exit in a downward direction from whence they came, it’s likely that you’ll get one or two right. However, in recent years there have been plenty of examples of clubs that have been promoted and held their own. A quick glance at the middle-to-lower half of last year’s Premier League table is littered with clubs whose implosions have been gleefully predicted at some point in the recent past. Even in the cases of Norwich City and Southampton, who were promoted for two successive seasons and might easily have been expected to struggle in their new surroundings, have managed to stay afloat without the need to get involved in any particularly attritional fight for survival.
Making the case for arguing that Crystal Palace can emulate these two clubs, however, is not necessarily easy. For one thing, well, it’s difficult enough to start with (for each Norwich City or Southampton there is a Burnley or a Derby County, whose appearances in the Premier League were strictly of the cameo variety), and for another, the club has lost the services of the two players who were the biggest single contributors towards it getting there in the first place – Glenn Murray was seriously injured at the end of last season and is unlikely to play for the club until the New Year at least, whilst Wilfrid Zaha was only at Selhurst Park for the second half of last season on loan after Manchester United paid £15m for him in the January transfer window and then immediately loaned him back to his former club for the remainder of the season, with the best efforts of manager Ian Holloway to entice him to return to the club on loan again – a set of circumstances which may well have left the Manchester United management wondering why they spent all this money on him in the first place – having thus far been rebuffed.
Promotion to the Premier League brings considerable financial benefits, of course, but the problem with applying those financial benefits to a club’s first season in this division is that everybody else will be receiving them at the same time. It’s not enough to throw money in the direction of the roulette wheel of Premier League survival. That money needs to be spent carefully, if for no other reason than because the costs of failure, if that failure has been reckless enough, can be crippling, and it could be this that is the reason for the club’s reticence in the transfer market since the window re-opened two and a half weeks ago. There’s plenty of time to go before that window snaps shut, though, and it’s likely that further ballast than the club’s three signings so far – Stephen Dobbie, Dwight Gayle and Jerome Thomas, none of whom set the hairs on the back of the neck tingling – will arrive before a shot is fired in anger at the start of next season.
Away from the pitch, meanwhile, the club’s future stability does seem to be being treated with admirable reverence. The owners recently spent £2.3m at auction on its training ground in Beckenham, a wise investment considering that it was spending a little over £200,000 a year on renting it beforehand and the sale of which was one of the lasting legacies of the club’s disastrous period of ownership by Simon Jordan, whilst redevelopments at Selhurst Park so far have focused on minor alterations required to bring the ground up to the standard expected in the Premier League and on refurbishing its hospitality suites, which, in an era during which money, money and more money can be critical, not only for short term ambitions but also for long-term survival, should help to secure the club’s financial future still further. This may not be as exciting for the ordinary match-going supporter as a clutch of shiny new players, but as the club’s previous dalliance with financial folly demonstrated, a sound financial infrastructure should be the platform upon which the club’s future is secured. A less attractive side to this chase for money, however, has been seen in the increase in season ticket prices at Selhurst Park for next season. The debate over ticket prices has become a well worn one over recent months, so we’ll only touch upon it now by mentioning that a twenty per cent increase in the current economic climate seems harsh, especially when we consider that Palace will be making a minimum amount of £60m in television money next season, regardless of how they perform in the league.
There are few who wouldn’t argue that survival in the Premier League won’t be a tall order for Crystal Palace next season, but in one critical sense the club has already won a major victory this summer. Just by getting into the promised land at this particular time, the club has secured itself not only one year’s worth of this new, plumpened television contract, but also four years’ worth of equally enriched parachute payments even in the event of the swift relegation that many anticipate for this season. Add the Wilfrid Zaha transfer windfall money to this, and there is no reason whatsoever for the club to revisit the financial meltdown that it experienced not so long ago. Bearing all of this in mind, regardless of what happens between now and May of next year there should be little reason for Crystal Palace supporters to be caught crying on camera at the end of the season. Nothing, however, is preordained and the pre-season is no time of year for defeatism. With some canniness in the transfer market over the next couple of weeks or so, seventeenth place in a Premier League table that is stuffed with flotsam and jetsam is certainly achievable, although the stiffness of this task cannot be overstated. Should they manage to finish much higher than that, and Crystal Palace rest will have defied all odds. It’s not that it can’t be done – only that such an achievement looks from this distance as if it will be very hard work.
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