Frank de Boer is just three Premier League games into his time at Crystal Palace and already there are echoes of his ill-fated stint at Inter Milan.
His initial pledge to play a more attractive brand of soccer and to “dominate” games. A puzzling start-of-season switch of formation to a three-man defense. Disappointing early results and sudden revisionism over whether he is the right man for the job.
De Boer lasted 84 days at Inter before getting fired by the team’s Chinese owners, leading to the Dutchman to Twitter to express his view that “this task required more time to move forward.”
The good news for De Boer is that he’s lasted longer at Palace than he did at the Italian club. The bad news? The widespread reports, not to mention alarming bookmakers’ odds, suggesting Palace’s board might already be having reservations about De Boer’s suitability at the perennial Premier League struggler.
Palace has started the Premier League with three straight losses — at against Huddersfield and Swansea, and at Liverpool — and has yet to score a goal.
In the two home losses, Palace’s players have looked uncomfortable adapting to De Boer’s possession-based approach, which is a giant leap from the pragmatism, directness and counter-attacking favored by previous manager Sam Allardyce.
De Boer is an odds-on favorite with some British bookmakers to become the first Premier League manager to leave his post, and reportedly held talks with chairman Steve Parish on Monday.
Another Palace loss on Saturday, at a Burnley side with a strong home record since returning to the Premier League for the 2015-16 season, would leave the club’s American owners — David Blitzer and Josh Harris — with a big decision to make.
Can they hold their nerve and keep a long-term view of things? Because time is clearly what De Boer needs.
Palace knew what it was getting in hiring De Boer, whose connections with Ajax — as a former player and coach there — mean he is devoted to a philosophy of possession and playing an expansive game. That couldn’t be more different to the style Palace employed under Allardyce as the team scrambled once again to avoid relegation from the world’s richest soccer league.
De Boer arrived in June on a three-year deal and with ambitions of making the team entertaining to watch and integrating more youth-team players. He said his primary objective was to turn a team that regularly battles relegation into a stable Premier League force.
Sitting alongside De Boer at his presentation, Parish backed the Dutchman’s bold vision but will he maintain that commitment? It would be rare show of patience in the short-term world of modern soccer.
De Boer has had the two-week break for internationals to come up with a plan for the Burnley match, and beyond. Palace has looked better when the team has switched to a 4-3-3 formation, after starting games with a 3-4-3, and De Boer might have to abandon his principles — at least for now — to get some solidity and shape. Having France center back Mamadou Sakho available following his deadline-day move from Liverpool will help.
De Boer has been unlucky to see winger Wilfried Zaha, Palace’s best player, get injured in the opening game and not play since. De Boer also needs more from record signing Christian Benteke, even though Palace hasn’t been playing to the big striker’s strengths.
If De Boer doesn’t survive much longer at Palace, it will be two successive failures for a coach who was hailed for helping lay the foundations for the reawakening of Ajax, one of European soccer’s most storied clubs, following his successful time in charge there from 2010-16.
Yet, the finger would best be pointed at the people who hired De Boer in the first place.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80