Not many people saw it coming, but last Thursday, just 36 hours before Crystal Palace’s 2014/15 Barclays Premier League campaign was due to get underway, manager Tony Pulis stepped down from his post and departed Selhurst Park for the last time.
Having been in charge at the South London outfit for less than nine months, the former Bristol, Newport and Bournemouth defender is reported to have finally had enough of the owners’ tight wage restrictions and relieved himself of his duties.
However, co-chairmen Steve Parish and Stephen Browett wasted no time in finding a replacement. Just two days after their aforementioned opening day game, which they narrowly lost 2-1 to Arsenal, former Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay was on the verge of being announced as the new boss. The Scot has been out of work since leaving the Welsh club last December, but is understood to have signed a three-year deal, thanks in no small part to his relationship with Palace sporting director Iain Moody. He and Moody worked together at Cardiff, where they achieved promotion to the top flight in 2012/13, only to leave during the subsequent Premier League campaign.
A new manager does not mean new rules within The Eagles camp, though. Mackay will have to adhere to the same strict monetary guidelines that left Pulis so frustrated, guidelines that have seen just five new players come in to the squad during this summer’s transfer window, while 21 have been sold, released or sent out on loan. Those incumbents are Fraizer Campbell, Scott Dann, Brede Hangeland, Martin Kelly and Chris Kettings – hardly names that are going to set the world alight, by anyone’s standards.
Eagles fans have also claimed, quite rightly so, that these are signings which suit the playing style that Tony Pulis has made his trademark – defend stoutly, break quickly and surprise teams with pace. It was this formula which saw Crystal Palace into 11th, their highest ever Premier League finish, last season. They were just four points behind Newcastle United, too, a team with a wage budget both Pulis and Mackay can only dream of.
These tactics were also clearly visible on the opening weekend, with a squad that worked so hard to adopt Pulis’ philosophy sticking to what they know. This is a trait that is going to be very difficult for the new boss to make changes to, especially given the names he has at his disposal.
It remains to be seen whether Malky Mackay can achieve these changes, but one thing is for sure - he’s not going to have the budget to blow on wholesale changes, and will struggle to change a tactic that has become synonymous with Crystal Palace. What’s more, someone with a reputation as stellar as Tony Pulis will not find it difficult to find another club willing to hire him, and he is already being linked with Newcastle and Swansea. There’s just the small matter of those clubs’ managers standing in the way.