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Crystal Palace is spending a lot of money and getting very little for it

The end of the January transfer window saw Sam Allardyce’s side spend heavily. Even if they stay up, they need to rethink their scouting.

Crystal Palace v Everton - Premier League Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images

If Crystal Palace end up getting relegated from the Premier League this season, they’ll only have themselves to blame. New manager Sam Allardyce arrived at Selhurst Park just before Christmas with a reputation as a safe pair of hands — at least while said hands are above the table. However, even Allardyce may well struggle to keep the Eagles from plummeting into the Championship, such has been their strange spending in the transfer market over the last few months.

Four of their five most expensive signings of all time only joined this season. Christian Benteke arrived for a whopping fee in excess of £30 million in the summer, and supporters had hoped he’d fire them to a comfortable mid-table position. But early optimism was misplaced, and Benteke has returned just nine league goals since arriving from Liverpool. He’s failed to score in any of his last seven league matches, and looks a long way off the player that first sprung to prominence with a string of excellent performances at Aston Villa.

Benteke cost Palace twice as much as any other signing in their history, though at £13 million, winger Andros Townsend didn't come cheap when Palace snapped him up from relegated Newcastle in July. Notwithstanding his penchant for a wondergoal, the 13-time England international has struggled to impress at Selhust Park, and a return to the North East has been suggested in the press. All in all, it was one poor transfer window for a side that didn’t look afraid to splash the cash.

If anything, they weren’t afraid enough. Perhaps overexcitable in light of their narrow Premier League survival, chairman Steve Parish gave a considerable chunk of his TV money to Alan Pardew, though his spending left a lot to be desired. It’s a well-known fact — and apparently not an apocryphal one — that a considerable percentage of lottery winners eventually end up going bankrupt, often the result of overexcitable and ambitious investments. It’s arguably a mistake made by Palace. When working with a tight budget, everyone knows that scouting must be meticulous; perhaps Palace thought the big spending alone would be enough.

But to lay the blame solely at the feet of Pardew would be unfair: skip forward a few months and things scarcely look any better. Parish has backed Pardew’s replacement in the transfer market, but Allardyce has blown a combined sum of little short of £30 million on two very average left-backs: Jeffrey Schlupp, who has made only one start at fellow strugglers Leicester City this season, and Patrick van Aanholt, who has been a regular fixture in the Premier League this season. Unfortunately, that’s a regular fixture at the division’s bottom club, Sunderland.

Admittedly, left-back has been a problem position for Palace for a while, especially since Pape Souaré was ruled out indefinitely after breaking his femur in a car accident. However, it seems clear that spending such a huge sum on two replacements — both inconsistent performers, at best — isn’t the smartest of strategies. Of course, both players come with Premier League experience; indeed, all four of these very expensive signings arrived with knowledge of English football. But while it is clearly beneficial, Palace’s unwillingness to cast the net a little wider could cost them in the long term.

For illustrative examples, see some of the other left-backs of the Premier League's mid-table: Stoke City's Erik Pieters cost £3 million when he arrived from PSV Eindhoven in 2013; José Holebas cost little over half as much when he arrived from Roma in 2015; Leicester City cult hero Christian Fuchs joined from Schalke for absolutely nothing the same season. You’d probably take all three over either Van Aanholt or Schlupp, and you’d have plenty of money left to strengthen elsewhere. Their deadline-day capture of Serbian international Luka Milivojević from Olympiacos at least offers some hope that they've started to look further afield, but it may be too little, too late.

As it is, Palace have now spent a huge sum of money, arguably without even addressing the problem that they started out with. Serious questions must be asked of their scouting infrastructure, regardless of whether or not they end up avoiding relegation. They’re currently in a position that they should have never been in, with successive managers misspending money that would be the envy of many of their Premier League counterparts. The problem may well run deeper than just the man in the dugout.