Crystal Palace face Roy Hodgson’s Watford tomorrow in a match that serves as a reminder of both their recent past and the significant gamble they have made on their future.
After almost four unadventurous but reliable years under Hodgson, last summer Palace traded in the former England manager for a decidedly sexier brand of football devised by Patrick Vieira and featuring £50m worth of new playing talent.
In aesthetic terms it has already been declared a success but, as the season enters its final third, the black and white of the Premier League table shows the bet is still in the balance.
Ahead of their reunion with Hodgson, Palace lie 13th in the division, eight points away from the relegation zone in one direction and ninth place in the other.
While they have been more enterprising, enjoyed more possession and generally looked like a better team, they have just 26 points from 25 games. Only once in the previous eight campaigns have they had fewer.
Worryingly, results show no sign of improving: Vieira’s team have earned just three points from six league games in 2022.
For a club such as Palace, whose top-flight status cannot be taken for granted, the gamble also has huge financial implications.
Merely being in the Premier League is worth upwards of £90m a year in central distributions alone, before it is factored into commercial deals and ticket revenue.
Dropping back down to the Championship for the first time in nine years would put a vast dent in the bottom line of a club whose revenue was £142m at the last count and almost certainly trigger the sale of key players.
Those with the most to lose are the American investors who have sunk their fortunes into the south-east London club.
Josh Harris and David Blitzer, whose sports portfolio includes NBA team the Philadelphia 76ers, bought into Palace in 2015 and are believed to own 18 per cent each.
Fellow countryman John Textor paid £88m for what has been reported to be a significant minority stake last year.
Chairman Steve Parish, who runs the club, also owned 18 per cent when the last figures were published.
Harris spoke glowingly of Vieira in a rare public appearance on English soil at a sports business conference last year.
“Patrick Vieira has been a great choice and we’re very lucky to have him,” he said.
But for all that Vieira has made Palace feel more progressive, no one really knows if Harris is right or not yet.
In his only two previous management roles, he improved New York City from a fairly low starting point and had a mixed 18-month spell at Nice. He has no great pedigree to point to since winding up an unimpeachable playing career.
Hodgson, on the other hand, has shown at Fulham, West Bromwich Albion and Palace that there are few better at organising a limited group of players and keeping them in the Premier League.
In the first sign that he might pull off another great escape with Watford, he lifted them to 18th with their first top-flight win since November on Saturday, having taken charge last month.
It would be an irony not lost on Palace and their ownership if Hodgson’s second win came on Wednesday evening at Vicarage Road at the expense of his old team.