Crystal Palace hire Frank de Boer with focus on emulating his all-conquering Ajax outfit and promoting youth
The Dutchman managed Ajax to four league titles on the spin during his time with the Dutch giants
By making young players the cornerstone of his successful Ajax team, Frank de Boer helped lay the foundations for the reawakening of one of European soccer’s most storied clubs.
De Boer has been challenged to have a similarly transformative effect on Crystal Palace.
The former Netherlands defender was hired as manager of Palace on a three-year deal on Monday, with club chairman Steve Parish saying De Boer’s reputation for “bringing on young talent” was crucial to the decision.
“We have always been a club that’s been about young talent,” said Parish, who sat alongside De Boer at a news conference to present the new coach. “Youth has always been an important part of what we do.”
It seems De Boer’s ill-fated 84-day stint as Inter Milan coach, which ended in November, was glossed over by Palace’s interview panel.
More important to Parish and Palace’s American owners, David Blitzer and Josh Harris, was De Boer’s five-and-a-half-year spell at Ajax from 2010-16, during which he became the first manager to win the Dutch league for four straight years. That came at the start of the new era – labelled the “Velvet Revolution” – when Ajax stopped buying expensive foreign players and started to promote youth players from within.
The latest stage in the blossoming of Ajax came last season when Peter Bosz, De Boer’s successor, led an exciting and young team to the Europa League final.
Parish spoke highly of 24-year-old Wilfried Zaha, arguably Palace’s star player, and 23-year-old midfielder Jonny Williams, who has spent the last few seasons out on loan.
Palace were once renowned for having a good academy, but youth isn’t a word associated with recent Palace sides.
That’s something De Boer is expected to change.
“Ajax is famous for their academy so when I came there, I felt that young players wanted to leave because they didn’t get a chance. I want to stop that feeling here,” De Boer said.
“It’s important for the DNA of the club, that the fans think, ‘Hey, this is a hometown boy,’ like Zaha.”
He’s also expected to change the club’s status in the Premier League.
Under Sam Allardyce last season, Palace secured their Premier League status only with a week remaining after a flurry of late wins. The previous season, a late slump saw Palace finish 15th in the 20-team league.
Asked what would constitute success in his tenure, De Boer said: “That we’re going to be a solid Premier League club, not to struggle for relegation. That is the main target. If we can do more, that’s nice, but first of all to be a solid Premier League club.”
De Boer is the eighth Dutchman to manage in the Premier League and he takes over a squad that is widely regarded to be too strong to be languishing near the bottom of the Premier League. The expensively assembled front three of Andros Townsend, Christian Benteke and Zaha was particularly impressive at the end of last season, while Palace also have France international Yohan Cabaye in midfield.
De Boer said he would work with the existing squad and add “one or two signings that I think is necessary.”
He faces a challenge of changing Palace’s style under Allardyce – direct, counter-attacking – to his own favoured possession-based approach that got results in Dutch soccer. To that end, De Boer is proving to have a similar philosophy to Louis van Gaal, whom he played under at Ajax in their Champions League-winning team of 1995.
“He was the first one to congratulate me on this new job, on this ‘exciting football world’ as he said,” De Boer said of Van Gaal, who managed Manchester United from 2014-16.
A cultured left-footed centre back, De Boer made 112 appearances for the Netherlands from 1990-2004 and played for Barcelona during his career before retiring in 2006. He was assistant coach of the Netherlands, under Van Gaal, when the team reached the World Cup final in 2010.