Crystal Palace bank on Roy Hodgson in bid to reunite splintered fanbase

<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

For Crystal Palace supporters scratching their heads about Roy Hodgson’s surprise return as manager, it is worth revisiting Steve Parish’s comments when the former England manager left his post in May 2021. “His record with us simply cannot be overstated,” said the Palace chairman. “He is the only Palace manager to secure four years in the Premier League and he has helped give us stability in the most turbulent of times.”

Having first visited Selhurst Park as a six-year-old in the 1950s, and briefly trained with the club’s youth team before embarking on his globetrotting career, Hodgson was eventually reunited with his boyhood club as manager in September 2017 with the team bottom after losing their first four matches under Frank de Boer. He guided them to 11th and subsequently was awarded the freedom of Croydon. Yet even the 75-year-old, whose last managerial spell at Watford ended in relegation following a run of two wins in 18 games, may have been surprised when the SOS call came from Parish for a second time after Patrick Vieira’s dismissal on Friday.

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While Hodgson insisted after leaving Vicarage Road last May that he had “earned the right to step back and spend some time with my wife and son”, the football obsessive, who already holds the record as the Premier League’s oldest-ever manager at 74 years and 286 days, has kept his ear to the ground and occasionally appeared as a pundit in recent months. Asked his opinion last month on Vieira’s struggles at Palace, his response was typically polite. “Unfortunately, they [Palace] continue to suffer a bit from problems like scoring goals,” Hodgson said. “I had the same problem when I was the manager there.”

He is understood to have been at Selhurst Park for the defeat to the City in what ended up being Vieira’s final home game in charge, with Parish said to have been mulling over his decision to sack the Frenchman for some time before deciding to act following the loss to their rivals Brighton in midweek. Palace’s Under-21s coach, Paddy McCarthy, was entrusted with overseeing the team’s trip to Arsenal after Vieira and his assistants, Osian Roberts, Kristian Wilson and Saïd Aïgoun, were informed of their departures as they made their way to the training ground on Friday morning.

But while McCarthy is highly rated by Parish and impressed despite Palace’s 4-1 defeat to the league leaders, it was the prospect of potential relegation in their record 10th successive season in the top flight, allied to a lack of viable immediate options that led to Hodgson’s comeback. “Steve has this thing where he cannot let go of people who have helped in the past,” says one source. “He will always be grateful for what Roy did first time around.”

There will be more than a few familiar faces to welcome Hodgson, although not all will be in favour of his return. He also inherits a squad seriously lacking in confidence after failing to win a match this year. As ever, Wilfried Zaha’s influence will be key to Palace’s hopes of pulling away from the bottom three as they embark on a run of fixtures that includes games against their relegation rivals Leicester, Everton, West Ham, Bournemouth and Everton that will give Hodgson every chance to prove he remains capable of managing at the highest level, despite his advancing years.

Roy Hodgson, left, speaks to Wilfried Zaha during their first spell together at Crystal Palace
Roy Hodgson, left, speaks to Wilfried Zaha during their first spell together at Palace. The Ivory Coast international will again be crucial to their hopes of staying up. Photograph: John Walton/PA

Zaha’s future beyond this season is in doubt as the Ivory Coast forward approaches the end of his contract having yet to sign a new deal amid reported interest from Saudi Arabia, with several other issues, including the £100m plans to redevelop Selhurst Park’s main stand, also needing to be resolved.

The task for Hodgson and his trusted lieutenant Ray Lewington, who has worked alongside him at Fulham, England, Palace and Watford, is to put those to one side and reunite a splintered fanbase in shock at the sacking of Vieira. McCarthy is said to be a popular presence among the squad and has been retained as Hodgson’s assistant, while Lewington will return as first-team-coach. Having never finished lower than 14th during their four seasons together at Palace, the pair will be confident of steering the team away from trouble.

The Austrian Adi Hütter, who was sacked by Borussia Mönchengladbach at the end of last season, and Lille’s Paulo Fonseca are believed to be among the managers under consideration to take over at the end of the season, with both having supporters in the Palace boardroom. But, for now, Palace’s fortunes are in a more familiar pair of hands.

“Goodbyes have never been my forte,” admitted Hodgson when he left Palace last time. “I’ve been much better at hellos.”