Crystal Palace's Premier road is rocky, but it's come a long way

Posted by Ed Malyon

On May 5, 2010, Marouane Chamakh was walking out at the Stade du Ray in Nice.

The Cote d'Azur sun was shining down on the striker, whose stock around Europe was sky-high after helping lead Bordeaux to the Ligue 1 title and a tilt at the Champions League.

With the Morocco international's contract expiring a month later, Europe's elite were sniffing around to see who would pick up the free signing of a striker who had verged on the unplayable at times.

Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC/Getty ImagesMarouane Chamakh can go a long way in boosting Crystal Palace if he plays more like he did at Bordeaux than at Arsenal.

On June 1, he would officially become an Arsenal player, swapping the balmy Bourgogne for the outskirts of England's capital.

On that very same day, under the sullen, grey skies of central London, a boisterous crowd of Crystal Palace fans were celebrating in the drizzle.

An ever-increasing cluster of supporters of the South Londoners had gathered at the headquarters of Lloyds Bank -- the financial institution that would decide the future of the club -- and spent the day protesting, singing songs and generally pleading for the administrators to sell their somewhat ramshackle home, Selhurst Park, to the CPFC 2010 consortium that were trying to save the 105-year-old institution.

Eventually, late in the day with Palace facing liquidation, an accord was struck ahead of the 3 p.m. deadline. The Eagles were under new management and would live to fight another day -- albeit by the skin of their teeth.

It was the culmination of a hair-raising few months, with the club forced into administration while players flew to an away game, star players like Victor Moses sold, manager Neil Warnock leaving for QPR and a final-day relegation shootout between themselves and Sheffield on Wednesday at Hillsborough.

A 2-2 draw had secured their league salvation on that day, but with no sign of a buyer for the penniless Eagles, prospects were bleak.

All of which puts the signing of Chamakh a little more significant for Crystal Palace this week.

Chamakh hardly had the best of times at the Emirates, and while English football's culture of ridicule has magnified his failings there, his signing highlights how much Palace have achieved in rising from the brink of oblivion to the Premier League in just three years.

Premier living has a price

“This was never the plan … this was the dream.”

The words of Crystal Palace co-chairman Steve Browett before the Eagles' Championship playoff final against Watford.

The prematch build-up, as it is every year, focuses on the ludicrous riches on offer, but for Crystal Palace, it was not a concern of the immediate financial gain but more the secure long-term future.

The stadium purchased for £4million at the club's darkest hour is falling apart, with one quarter of the stadium turning 90 years old this season and looking its age.

Inevitably, with the promotion that ensued, there is a clamour from the fans for significant amounts to be unloaded on new players, and the need to strengthen is even more pronounced than usual with the side promoted through the playoffs.

The raw facts are that Crystal Palace's squad is arguably worse -- with a week until the start of their Premier League campaign -- than the team that stumbled to a fifth-place finish in the second tier.

Wilfried Zaha, the unique and precocious talent who almost single-handedly guided them through the playoff semis, has gone on to bigger things at Manchester United, while Championship top scorer Glenn Murray picked up a ligament injury that is likely to see him out until 2014.

Ian Holloway has one season of Premier League experience as a manager, but for relative rookie chairman Steve Parish, it has been something of a learning experience.

Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty ImagesWilfried Zaha helped guide Crystal Palace to the Championship title before leaving for Manchester United.

A shrewd negotiator credited with securing big cuts in the original takeover, Parish has been inundated with calls from agents, chancers, fixers and anyone else looking to sniff out some of Palace's £120million promotion bounty.

The recruitment process has been a far more difficult experience than the club had foreseen, with the hopes of plucking the cream of young talent from the second tier nixed by the extortionate demands of the selling clubs.

When your newfound wealth is so readily known, it somewhat weakens your negotiating position and pleading poverty is removed as an option, but, even so, the £14million fee requested by Blackpool for Matt Phillips and Thomas Ince was just one example of the exorbitant prices quoted to the Eagles in the early part of the summer.

Of the subsequent signings made, only the purchase of Peterborough speedster Dwight Gayle really fulfills the original criteria, costing an initial £4.5million but with buckets of raw ability and room to grow.

Jerome Thomas will be a handy acquisition for free, and, although he lacks the audacity and skill of Zaha, his end product is better than the young England star.

But while Gayle might be the biggest layout, Jose Campana is the signing that has most caught the imaginations of South London fans. The Spain Under-20 captain is a technically gifted central midfielder and represents an enormous coup for the Eagles. If he and fellow starlet Jonny Williams play to their considerable potential, then they will catch the eye this season.

Holloway hasn't tinkered with the spine of his side, with Mile Jedinak set to continue anchoring the team from the base of midfield. Having previously received Premier League interest, the Australia international has thus far refused to sign a new contract and has a season in the top flight to impress before becoming a free agent next summer.

Steve Bardens/Getty ImagesThe signing of Spain Under-20 captain Jose Campana represents an enormous coup for Crystal Palace.

Until then, you can expect him to be fully committed to the cause, and his strength, discipline and leadership will be essential given the reputation for Holloway's teams to be somewhat careless in defence.

Behind that back four -- incidentally the one part of the team that has been worryingly overlooked in terms of summer reinforcement -- is one position that has not been in question for much of Julian Speroni's nine years at the club.

The Argentine has declined ever so slightly in the past couple of seasons but is still a phenomenal shot stopper who will undoubtedly save Palace points this season.

Uphill climb for CPFC

With little stand-out investment (fellow promotion winners Cardiff City have spent around £30million on proven international talents, by way of comparison), it is no surprise that CPFC are favourites to finish rock bottom.

However, the noises coming out of the club are that the squad will receive its highest-calibre reinforcements in the coming weeks, with names like Darren Bent and Scott Parker on the wanted list and representing undeniable upgrades on the current first XI.

Chamakh -- as briefly covered earlier -- will be a bargain signing if he can come close to recreating his Bordeaux form and is certainly an improvement on the current starting centre-forward Aaron Wilbraham.

Without buying at least one new central defender, it's only natural to fear for their survival prospects, but in Palace's case -- more than many others -- it is a squad that should only be judged on Sept. 2.

And if we're to learn from the past, then writing off the club that were second favourites for relegation in the second tier last season might be a little premature, especially when the best is yet to come.


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