Crystal Palace will be well aware that blessings can come in disguise. Last August they were plunged into disarray when Tony Pulis, the manager who steadied the ship after Ian Holloway led it dangerously close to wreckage the season before, quit just 48 hours before the start of the 2014/15 campaign.
Pulis cited an impasse with chairman Steve Parish for an inability to land his summer transfer targets and so he walked, with Palace turning to the dismal era of Neil Warnock who shortly went the same way as Holloway. This time it was Alan Pardew, the club’s former midfielder, who stepped into the breach and since he was appointed on 2nd January, Palace took 31 points from their remaining 18 games, positioning the London club sixth in the form table for that period.
Pardew directed Palace to a tenth place finish, their highest in the Premier League era and with the vibrant, adventurous football that did for Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool in the second half of the season now in place, Palace are perhaps now more expectant than they were 12 months ago when Pulis led them into a summer of rebuilding.
This time round it is an off-season that is more about evolution rather than revolution, with Pardew targeting a midfielder, a striker and perhaps a new central-defender to further strengthen a squad that returned 28 points from the 54 that were on offer to Pardew when he took over in early January.
The tireless work-rate of James McArthur and Mile Jedinak in the midfield engine room, as well as Glenn Murray in attack, was the basis of the Pardew revival but the pace and attacking intent of Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon made the difference.
As Sunderland, West Ham and QPR would testify, Palace were turned into a ruthless and dangerous outfit as the season drew to a close and they narrowly lost out to both Chelsea and Manchester United with confident, fluent showings. After guiding the team to tenth and the £4 million extra prize-money that comes with it, Pardew is likely to be handed a transfer kitty in the region of £25 million and ambition will be righteously thriving around Selhurst Park this summer.
While Pulis was stifled by failing to agree with Parish on a vision for the club, Pardew is likely to hope that he can avoid a similar fate. Zaha, who at 22 is still a major young talent, was re-signed permanently as recently as February while Puncheon renewed his deal in May. According to Pardew, the latter business in particular has been vital, naming Puncheon as his best player since arriving at the club, though he will be aware of the necessity of keeping hold of Bolasie, the final part of that irrepressible trio.
The French-born Congolese winger is being targeted by Tottenham Hotspur who would have been attracted by his return of 4 goals and 6 assists from his usual station on the left-wing, though Pardew has fielded him centrally as the 26 year old has added versatility to his game. Possessing bags of skill and flair but often let down by unpredictability when on the ball, Pardew has managed to coax consistent end-product from Bolaise who, with 46 chances created is second only to Puncheon in Palace’s squad for last year. Though nobody in the Palace squad took more shots than Bolasie’s 69 or attempted more dribbles than his 210.
He was however Palace’s most dispossessed player for the season just gone, giving the ball away more than anybody else in claret and blue stripes, but his performances against Sunderland and Liverpool, in which he terrorised both defences throughout, suggest a tenfold improvement. It is no surprise, given his recent outstanding performance at Anfield, that Liverpool are also interested in the 26 year old who, signed for just £400,000 from Bristol City in 2012, now represents a stunning bargain for the south Londoners.
Bolasie happily admits he acts purely on raw instinct when on the ball but yet that may do him an injustice when the intelligence and balance he clearly possesses are witnessed. Together with a wild box of tricks, the winger has a strong physique which makes him a tough opponent for defenders to win the ball off; one simply has to watch the hat-trick he scored at Sunderland to gain an insight into the current Bolasie, the roughest of diamonds now being smoothed into a fine talent.
“I’m a puzzle that Alan Pardew has finally been able to piece together” says Bolasie of his current coach who has coaxed out improvement from his winger by focussing work on his fitness and conditioning. Pardew said that he rated Bolasie at £60 million after his goal-scoring salvo up in Sunderland and although that may be a pie in the sky figure, the sentiment behind it strikes a chord.
Crystal Palace will be extremely reluctantly to part with Bolasie and if they want to push on and realise their potential under Pardew’s guidance, they should avoid any temptation to cash in.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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