It hasn’t been pretty and it hasn’t been Pep, but Roy Hodgson has been working miracles at his Crystal Palace this season.
Whilst not turning water into wine but – far more impressively – Martin Kelly into a competent footballer, it’s high time that Croydon’s very own sacred Messiah gets the recognition he deserves.
Having started things under the wobbly stewardship of Frank de Boer – a tenure lasting just 77 days – Palace set off to a shaky start and amassed a total of zero points from their first seven games.
Roy Hodgson’s mission was clear: keep the Eagles afloat and do so in a 31-game season. It was never going to be an easy task but, following four points from their last two matches, it might just appear as if they’ve successfully avoided the drop.
At the time of writing, Palace sit six points outside of a relegation zone fronted by teams in utter disrepair. Their run-in now is a straight and narrow path facing Leicester, Stoke and West Bromwich Albion.
Most would argue that the former England boss has done the impossible with three games to spare. One more win, or – if they’re cutting it fine, another point or two – and Palace have secured their Premier League status for a fifth year running.
What has it been about Hodgson in particular, though, that makes this such a sensational feat?
After all, Palace’s squad was being discussed alongside rose tinted visions of Europe in the not so distant past.
In short, it all comes back to the aforementioned Mr De Boer. The Dutchman is famous for the playing style and structure he managed to implement during his years with Ajax. He is the ultimate stickler for dogmatism and seemed determined to force his ways onto a team not yet ready for a total football re-haul.
With no points and no goals from his opening five games, things fell apart behind the scenes at Selhurst Park and the 47-year-old gaffer was shown the door. The stage was set for Hodgson’s reign to really shake up some sh*t.
Though, for a gentleman in his 70s, really shaking up sh*t is not an everyday occurrence and Hodgson’s task was instead to enforce a pragmatic approach to a disjointed and disenchanted squad.
A blistering run of injuries left the Palace side bruised and depleted, so the former England boss was forced into adapting his side yet again to battle the tidal wave of a challenge they now faced.
At one rather harrowing point, Eagles fans were forced to watch on in disbelief as their initial starting eleven piled into the sick bay and the lads on the pitch filled in from the bench as best they could.
Palace’s injury crisis has perhaps been best summed up by the fact that Roy Hodgson has been almost entirely unable to make substitutions until the last week or so, such was the limited depth of his squad.
His solution proved the mark of a talented man-manager, someone willing to adapt to the twists and turns of an impossibly challenging season. The Palace side transformed from its usual, tried ‘n’ tested line-up to a rather messy collection of misfits coming into their own under Hodgson.
We saw the remarkable transformation of Bakary Sako, Martin Kelly and Patrick van Aanholt into first team stalwarts whilst the likes of Luka Milivojević, James McArthur and Jaïro Riedewald became indomitable figures at the heart of Palace’s team.
Since recovering (slightly) from their injury woes, Palace’s more obvious selections have stepped up to the plate in magnificent fashion, with Hodgson adapting and tweaking their styles to suit the team. Andros Townsend has become an essential asset to the south Londoners, whilst Wilfried Zaha has excelled up top with his defensive duties largely being relieved.
At the back, James Tomkins and Mamadou Sakho have formed a solid partnership of guts and grit and prop up the team with solidity.
And you cannot discuss Crystal Palace today without mentioning the 20-year-old Aaron Wan-Bissaka; an academy star shining the brightest in a competent Palace side thanks to the trust and guidance placed in the lad by his aged gaffer.
What Roy Hodgson has done at Crystal Palace may not appear the most flourishing, jaw-dropping artistry, but at a micro level he’s transformed the side to near safety.
There haven’t been any major overhauls, any signings of much note or rousing charges of glorious victory, but the Eagles have defied all odds and, despite being shot down, are soaring high once again.
A man once lambasted and ridiculed by his country’s fans has done the unthinkable by saving a broken, still breaking side in just a 31-game season.
For that alone he deserves to be spoken of in the same vein as other Manager of the Year contenders. Shame on you, Pep, for stealing it from him.