Frank de Boer was fired by Crystal Palace on Monday, just four games into his tenure as manager. The statement issued by the club may set a record for brevity in manager sacking announcements.
“Crystal Palace Football Club have this morning parted company with Frank de Boer.
We would like to thank Frank for his dedication and hard work during his time at the Club.
A new manager will be appointed in due course and we wish Frank the very best of luck for the future.
There will be no further comment at this time.”
There wasn’t anything else to say. De Boer wasn’t around long enough to make any friends, and he certainly didn’t accomplish anything — Palace lost all four games that he was in charge for, scoring zero goals in the process. The entirety of his managerial reign can be distilled into a future trivia question:
“Did you know that Frank de Boer managed Crystal Palace once?”
But Palace’s statement and decision to sack de Boer represented more than most managerial changes do. Giving up on a coach after just four matches is an admission of a major error in hiring process. Palace’s bad management and poor start to the season is more the fault of managing director Steve Parish and his co-owners than De Boer, and his sacking represents an admission that they made a serious mistake.
De Boer was ostensibly brought to Palace because ownership wanted to see pretty soccer and youth development. He his Ajax teams played an attractive, attacking style, and De Boer had a big hand in the development of stars like Christan Eriksen, Arek Milik, Jasper Cillessen, Daley Blind, and Davy Klaassen while he was at the club. There were warning signs that De Boer was a bad hire, though, both before he signed his contract and after he was hired.
The before: De Boer’s last season at Ajax ended in a collapse in which his team threw away the Eredivisie title. Despite being linked to jobs at Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, and Southampton, it appears that none of those teams ever seriously considered hiring him. He ended up at Inter Milan, who sacked him after 85 days in charge.
The during: Preseason saw de Boer attempt to install a system using world soccer’s current trendy formation, 3-4-3, with players completely ill-suited to it. Midfielder Luka Milivojević was played at center back, Andros Townsend played wingback and attacking midfielder Jason Puncheon was played in a two-man center. No one who was familiar with Palace’s players or the sport in general had any reason to believe that de Boer’s ideas would work.
It certainly wasn’t Parish’s place to stroll down to the training ground and tell de Boer — winner of 113 caps for the Netherlands — that he had extremely bad ideas and should change them immediately. Instead, Palace’s directors could only watch helplessly as the man they hired to take their club out of the Sam Allardyce era and into a more exciting future did things that were obviously dumb.
Sunday’s match against Burnley saw de Boer abandon his ambitious plans and set his team up in a more sensible 4-3-3 that suited his players. Palace played much better — they had 65 percent possession and 23 shots to Burnley’s four. Most viewers thought that would save him, and that the Palace directors would give him next weekend’s match against Southampton to save his job. Instead, he was sacked for yet another shutout loss.
Despite the improved play and tactics, Burnley’s goal came as a result of this error.
It was a goal indicative of Palace’s placers lacking understanding of where they and their teammates were supposed to do. It also showed off the perils of playing a high line with defenders who aren’t suited to it. Scott Dann is an excellent central defender, but the only thing he’s lacking in his game is speed. Strangely, de Doer put him into a situation where his strength, aerial ability, and decision-making matter less than being able to run fast.
There’s no question that de Boer had to go, and that’s because he shouldn’t have been hired in the first place. But Palace’s ownership did something that most owners don’t want to do — they admitted they screwed up. Most owners keep bad hires like de Boer around for a few more months, then shift the blame, saying that they gave them time and backing, but the manager just couldn’t turn things around. In making a change now, Parish and his partners have given de Boer zero time and backing, accepting that the responsibility for the state of Palace is their own.
Palace’s fans should be upset with the way their club has been managed over the past four months, as well as skeptical about their club’s ability to hire a good replacement for de Boer. The club’s willingness to cut its losses and try again is a good sign, though.