Roy Hodgson: Is Crystal Palace's returning boss the safe pair of hands the club need?

Roy Hodgson: Is Crystal Palace's returning boss the safe pair of hands the club need?
_129049680_gettyimages-1064807032.jpgStriker Wilfried Zaha (left) will be reunited with Hodgson (right) after playing under the former England boss during his four-year spell at Selhurst Park (2017-2021)

When Roy Hodgson left Watford and Premier League football for what he declared was the final time in May 2022, the elder statesman of management admitted he might only miss the game when he was away from the cold and rain pounding the touchline.

Hodgson's exile lasted less than a year. He is walking back into, if not exactly a storm, less than ideal conditions at Crystal Palace.

The 75-year-old has accepted a similar short-term, fire-fighting role at the club he left in July 2021 with the same brief he took on at Watford - namely ensure Palace are still playing Premier League football next season.

Hodgson and Palace chairman Steve Parish will hope he enjoys more success than he did at Vicarage Road, where he was unable to stop Watford returning to the Championship.

In appointing the old football nomad, Parish has gone for what he knows in Hodgson, the safe pair of hands, an experienced organiser after what was initially regarded as the more progressive, stylish approach when he was succeeded by Patrick Vieira.

He has also gone for what Hodgson knows, believing his vast experience and knowledge of many players still at Palace from his first spell - which started in September 2017 - will prove a crucial factor in improving performances and results.

Vieira, after a first season of promise that included an FA Cup semi-final, was sacked following a winless run that left Palace in relegation peril, with a Premier League position of 12th disguising the cold reality that they are only three points off the bottom three.

While Hodgson resembles something of a comfort blanket for a club that has always been close to his heart, there is also an element of risk about the veteran's continuing influence, particularly given he came up short when tackling his last rescue job at Watford.

Hodgson, as ever, will have his trusted lieutenant Ray Lewington at his side and the pair will be on the training ground with those familiar drills that have made organisation a key characteristic of his sides, at least at club level.

Ironically, Palace did not exactly look short of organisation or defensive solidity under Vieira - they conceded just nine goals in their 10 games before he was sacked. It was a lack of goals that undermined them - four scored in a run of five draws and five defeats in the Premier League in 2023.

Hodgson's style has always been conservative and based on reliability at the back, so one of the risks inherent in this appointment is that he needs to somehow make a Palace attack that looks potent on paper, more threatening on the pitch.

It means Hodgson will have to move away from his more familiar tactical comfort zone, adding to the concerns of those Palace fans who might have wanted to see Parish move in a different direction.

Hodgson must revive Palace's biggest hope of survival, Wilfried Zaha, whose goals have dried up and he can also use his experience on the rare talent that is Eberechi Eze. Do that and optimism will rise immediately.

He will be well versed in what is required as the man who once admitted football was like a drug to him will have hardly turned his eyes away from the game during his time on the outside.

In his latter days at Palace, there were grumbles at what was regarded as a stodgy style of play, which meant Vieira's more pleasing on the eye approach was welcomed last season. However, Hodgson has always been hugely respected by the fans who recognised the work done in his previous time at Selhurst Park.

It would also do a major disservice to a man who has seen and done so much in football to think he cannot adapt but he will have to do it quickly with Palace on a downward curve.

Hodgson walks into a situation where points on the board are more important than artistic merit. It will be a situation he relishes, even at such an advanced age, although he will be under scrutiny immediately for signs of whether the old methods still work and his style can still be applied to what is required.

It is clear the threat of relegation, after a period when Palace seemed to be looking in a more upward direction under Vieira, has prompted Parish to turn the clock back.

The notion of playing Championship football next season is unthinkable and it has led the Palace hierarchy to place their trust in a man who has been unable to resist one last adventure.

Hodgson, to his credit, has not hesitated to accept the challenge but in doing so he will risk at least part of the reputation he built during a solid first spell as Palace manager.

Hodgson and Parish will hope it is an adventure with a happy ending - but make no mistake this is a gamble.


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