FRANK de Boer’s 77-day stint in charge of Crystal Palace seems like a lifetime when you consider a brief history of Scottish football’s briefest bosses. There is Iain Munro, for instance, whose time at St Mirren in 1996 lasted the 24 hours it took for him to discern that some of the directors wanted Tony Fitzpatrick as manager all along and decide to join Raith Rovers instead.
Another blink-and-you-miss-them boss was Peter Cormack at Cowdenbeath in 2000, who thought he had agreed a two-year deal with the Fifers only to be informed in a burger bar some 10 days later without taking charge of a single match that he had attempted to change too much too soon and club officials wanted him out. Or what about Billy McKinlay, the former Scotland international midfielder, who catapulted from his position as Oscar Garcia’s assistant into the head coach’s role at Watford in September 2014, then offered the chance to be Slavisa Jokanovic’s assistant again all of eight days later.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised about anything any more in modern day football. But the sheer scale of the lunacy of the short-lived reign of Frank de Boer at Selhurst Park may yet go down as the moment where the Barclays Premier League jumped the shark. Like the episode from the fifth series of TV sitcom Happy Days, where an increasingly desperate hunt for ratings saw the producers persuade Fonzie to get on a waterski, was this the instant where the sport finally sold its soul?
Okay, so by any standards, De Boer’s ridiculously rapid reign (it came after a similarly brief 83-day stint at Internazionale) wasn’t exactly a success. The shortest ever Premier League managerial tenure, he presided over just five matches in total, one of them a victory over Ipswich Town in the league cup. The four league matches, on the other hand, harvested four defeats. Seven goals conceded, no goals scored. The worst start to an English top flight season in 93 years.
As short as his reign was, the grumbling had been ongoing for a couple of weeks now. Coming in with a 3-4-1-2 tactic, that old line about him having lost the dressing room surfaced early. Nameless sources from inside Palace, reported elsewhere, said the Dutchman – the former Rangers defender and four-times Eredivisie winner with Ajax – was ‘difficult to get along with,’ and ‘a bit of a weirdo’. Some observers expressed no surprise about the lack of goalscoring action, considering they displayed the same slow, methodical style which got his old gaffer Louis van Gaal kicked out of Manchester United.
But what really makes this whole episode so utterly baffling is how predictable it all was. To anyone with a passing knowledge of European football, it was obvious it might take a while for a technocrat reared in the Ajax school of passing to overhaul a playing squad assembled by Alan Pardew and well-versed in the percentage football of Sam Allardyce. Allowed only two permanent signings of his own, it was obvious certain players would take umbrage at such upheaval, although to be fair during the second half of Sunday’s 1-0 defeat at Burnley the players created enough chances to win the game. It was also obvious then, in the face of an early media onslaught, that the owners would need to keep the faith and stay the course with the man they had chosen. Presumably, this should all have been covered by owner Steve Parish at the strategy and interview stage.
But no, not a bit of it. Instead, they jumped early, bringing about the first managerial casualty of the Barclays Premier League season, just hours after Parish had called for unity among his fans on Twitter. Time will tell whether they have compounded one bad decision with another, or alternatively saved their Barclays Premier League bacon. But for now the only good news ist hat it hasn’t cost them more in hard cash. The £2m early dismissal settlement on De Boer’s three-year £6m deal may be a fortune to clubs in Scotland, but it is a pittance to the big spenders of the Barclays Premier League.
Incidentally, when I spoke to De Boer’s agent Guido Albers this pre-season, he said money was the last of his clien’s concerns and stressed the importance of the right long-term project. Managing Rangers wouldn’t have been a cakewalk either, but if he had moved to Ibrox De Boer would at least still be in gainful employment this morning.