It was the longest a Premier League season had gone without its first firing in 19 years, but that’s now done. Neil Warnock, the man whose return to Selhurst Park provided a small (for some, invisible) silver lining to Tony Pulis’s untimely departure, just experienced an early exit of his own. Two days after Christmas, the 66-year-old’s second tour in Croydon is done.
Here’s Palace’s entire statement:
Crystal Palace Football Club can today confirm that Neil Warnock has been relieved of his duties and is no longer first-team manager.
The club would like to put on record its thanks to Neil for all his hard work and energy over the past four months.
Keith Millen will lead the team against Queens Park Rangers tomorrow as caretaker manager.
If the name Keith Millen sounds familiar, that’s because he also served as caretaker this summer when Pulis walked out. When Ian Holloway left the club shortly into the 2013-14 season, Millen was the temporary man then, too. In fact, since last appearing as a player for Bristol City in 2002, Millen has been a temporary boss five times, becoming a strange English soccer analog to a substitute teacher – called upon in an emergency, but only occasionally handed the full-time job.
Palace’s full-time job is a peculiar one, a place where an austere philosophy born of financial close calls means limited resources. Justifiably for a team with a recent history of administration, the balance of accounts remains far more important than the balance of goals. For a man like Pulis, that created a combination of conflict and an eventual trap, a formula he converted into a springboard over the course of half a season. What that was a springboard to remains to be seem — the man is still out of a job — but Pulis has a nice Premier League Manager of the Season honor to show for his work. At least for one person, Crystal Palace was workable, even if that person eventually turned his back on the job.
It could be workable for others, too. Palace is in 18th, one point back of safety, but its goal difference is 15th. The team also has upcoming matches against QPR and Aston Villa and, hopefully, the knowledge 18 games might paint a deceiving picture. The slightly deeper numbers aren’t great (17th in shots created, 12th in shots allowed), but there’s some reason to think the goal scoring can stay steady while the defense improves. And that’s if a new boss has no effect on the product.
But as Pulis showed, a new boss can have a huge impact. Palace is the type of club you start with in Football Manager, one with deep roots, few resources, but a name. There’s glory to be had in revitalizing Palace, just as Roy Hodgson was able to resuscitate his England reputation after success at Fulham.
Is it a job you keep forever, filling up your computer’s memory with virtual dollars while selling talent to bigger clubs? No, mostly because you also want to move on. While those types of departures are less likely when the club settles for Neil Warnock, it’d be a fact of life with any man who ending his big club apprenticeship to cut his teeth in South London.
Going out, finding another Roberto Martínez or Brendan Rodgers also entails risk, but it also carries huge reward. Perhaps a young, inexperienced boss will lead the Eagles back to the Championship, but he could also serve as a solidifying presence, giving the team an on field identity to match its new off field balance. Those men don’t grow on trees, but neither do jobs in England’s first division.
The alternative is to open the contacts list (at Palace, it may still be a Rolodex) and cycle through the next names on the wheel. It is an approach that’s gotten Crystal Palace back into the Premier League. But fighting relegation for a second straight year, Palace should ask whether it wants to change course, search for a Martínez, and risk the future Wigan eventually felt. Even if a retread is successful, Palace won’t be much better off.