BY ANDREW MCSTEEN
After the final Crystal Palace training session of the season at their training ground in Beckenham, the near-perfect grass pitches were swiftly dug up and laid bare, looking like a pop-up beach had opened on Copers Cope Road for the summer season.
But as the season winds down, Palace boss Roy Hodgson took the time to not only look back at a coaching season in which he broke the record as the oldest Premier League manager, but ahead to a record seventh-straight season in the league for his Eagles side.
“I enjoyed the [last coaching session] – I’ve enjoyed all the sessions this week; they’ve been good, but I don’t know that I will desperately miss the coaching for the next four or five weeks as I’ve been doing 40-odd weeks of it non-stop,” said Hodgson
“That has topped me up for a period of time so I can survive these four or five weeks of relaxation which will be, obviously, interspersed with a lot of discussions with the club, with (director of football) Dougie Freedman and (chairman) Steve Parish about what possibilities exist for us to improve the squad or maintain the players we have for next season.
“But as far as I am concerned now, it’s making certain that we do the job properly in the last game, thanking the fans properly after the game for their enormous support both home and away because we are very well-supported team and we have a lot of loyal fans.
“There’s no question that the pitches [at Beckenham] are being prepared for next season and they might look a little bit beach-like at the moment, but there’s certainly been no beach-like attitude at all either from the coaching staff or the players.
“It’s been a good week in that respect and we’re going into that final game hoping we can really get that home victory that we would like to give our fans because a lot of our victories as everyone knows, have been away from home. We want to make certain Sunday is right.”
Palace will be hoping to beat Bournemouth at Selhurst Park on Sunday to finish with a record 20-team Premier League points total of 49 points and following a break for the rest of May and a bit of June, Hodgson and his backroom team will start plotting to break into the top half of the table once again.
“It will be a question of maybe going away to free my mind a little bit of the day-to-day scenarios,” said Hodgson about what he will do on his break.
“I won’t call it problems, because they’re not problems it’s scenarios you face day-to-day; ‘what shall we do in training today?’, ‘what needs to be done?’, ‘who’s going to be involved in the practices?’, ‘who’s going to play where?’, ‘how much work do we need to do on this aspect?’, ‘how much work on that aspect?’.
“These are things which are part and parcel of a coaches’ life, but I won’t miss that for the next three or four weeks, that’s for sure. I will be quite happy to be relaxing and also spending some time with my wife, who, obviously gets caught up in the maelstrom of what being a professional manager at a top level is about.
“But then we’ll come back on July 1 and hopefully we have a group of players which will be rested after their break, and I’m sure they’ll all be very anxious to go again.”
Even though Hodgson himself gets some time away from the game, the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations will be taking place in Egypt from late June to mid-July and features a number of Palace players potentially in action, including the key Palace man Wilfried Zaha, representing Ivory Coast.
“This year is a bit strange because we have several players whose international duty could take them into the pre-season,” said Hodgson.
“We have players who will be going to the African Nations, which could take them into the middle of July and we also have Aaron Wan-Bissaka playing for England [in the UEFA U21 European Championship] who could also be taken that far, if the England team does as well as we hope it will do.
“That will be something for us [coaching team] to juggle with later on because the players still need to rest after they have finished with their international teams and they are problems which I will enjoy wrestling with and thinking about trying to find the best solution to when the time comes.
“[After Sunday] it’s then time to get away, free your mind and enjoy – in my opinion – some well-deserved rest, relaxation, while [for me] at the same time, of course, always being in touch with the club with regard to the daily matters that crop up with regards to recruitment.”