When referee Andre Marriner blew the full-time whistle to bring the curtain down on Crystal Palace’s season, there was growing concern among the fans as to what the future held.
Roy Hodgson’s side had drawn 1-1 with Tottenham – in a vacuum, not a bad result. It didn’t come in a vacuum. It was the only point they’d earned in eight games.
The only time the Palace faithful saw their side pick up three points after the Premier League restarted from its coronavirus-induced hiatus was away to Bournemouth, who were eventually relegated. The Eagles finished 14th with the oldest squad in the division, and it was clear that a summer of change was needed.
Fans of the club have been crying out for a youthful injection into this ageing team for years now, and the end of the season made it pretty clear that if the issue wasn’t fixed this summer, relegation was a very real possibility.
The emergence of Aaron Wan-Bissaka from the Crystal Palace youth ranks was a refreshing starting point back in 2018, even the young right-back was only given a chance due to an injury crisis. Youth prevailed…until he was sold.
Even with the money from his £50m transfer to Manchester United in the bank, Palace spent just barely £5m in total, on moves for James McCarthy and Jordan Ayew. By a couple of months into the season, they were 29 and 28 years old respectively. Oh, and they brought the 33-year-old Gary Cahill in on a free.
However, this summer, there’s been a different blueprint.
It’s refreshing to see, and it’s what the fans want. Young players with bags of potential, who have all earned their right to play Premier League football.
The club’s first summer signing, Nathan Ferguson, joined the Eagles on a free transfer after his contract at West Brom came to an end. Palace had been tracking the defender for a while, they got their man six months later than planned after an injury had scuppered a January switch.
The 19-year-old will be a welcome addition to Roy Hodgson’s squad, offering some serious competition to Joel Ward at right-back, whilst also being able to play as a centre-back and left-back.
It was a great coup for the club, but it set the tone for something even better.
Queens Park Rangers’ Eberechi Eze was always likely to be one of the most in demand players this summer following an eye-catching season in the Championship. Sheffield United had been linked, but so had Spurs and Arsenal after a season of 14 goals and eight assists.
However, Palace were the ones to land the Englishman. A young, exciting player looking to make his mark in the Premier League chose this new Crystal Palace project.
With or without Wilfried Zaha, fans of Crystal Palace will have a new hero on the pitch at Selhurst Park, and it’s a mouthwatering prospect.
Roy Hodgson has already told the youngster that he has huge freedom in the Palace attack, which shows the great deal of trust he has placed in him. The new youthful additions are what he refers to as ‘assembling the jigsaw’, with Eze and Ferguson the first steps along the way.
He said: “Alongside recent signing Nathan Ferguson, we are assembling the pieces of our jigsaw with regard to bringing in some fresh, young players to our squad who will provide the quality and energy we have highlighted as being necessary for us to take the next steps forward.”
Crystal Palace are also closing in on making their third signing of the summer, official and it’s another one that fits the bill.
Chelsea midfielder Conor Gallagher spent 2019/20 away on two loan spells. The Englishman was initially sent out to Charlton, before being recalled by his parent club and sent out to Swansea City, a side further up the Championship table.
With Gallagher flourishing in both loan moves, Crystal Palace are set to take the youngster on loan for the 2020/21 campaign – with a medical reportedly completed on Monday.
Gallagher, Eze and Ferguson’s respective introductions, along with 20-year-old academy graduate Tyrick Mitchell competing for places, should bring the new youthful impetus that Crystal Palace fans have been longing for.
Whether it will bring the best out of the older players fighting to keep their places, or reward younger players with a chance, the new era at Crystal Palace is here.