This article forms part of our The Ones That Got Away feature series, which is where Football Transfer Tavern take a look back at players linked with moves in the past, and see how they would have made an impact had they signed for the interested side.
Crystal Palace have allegedly been interested in a lot of players in recent years that have gone onto big things. Junior Firpo (ABC Sevilla), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Sky Sports), Ferland Mendy (Sport.es) and even Harry Kane (BBC) have all reportedly been targets, but there are probably none that sting as much as missing out on the latest UEFA Men’s Player of the Year, given how close they reportedly were.
According to Neil Warnock, Palace had the opportunity to buy the Netherlands captain for less than a tenth of the fee he was sold to Liverpool for, but the chief scout put him off the Champions League winner.
Speaking before Cardiff’s match versus Liverpool last season, the manager said (via talkSPORT): “Van Dijk – I’m delighted he’s playing like he is,” said Warnock.
“We could have bought him at Palace for £6m but my chief scout told me he was too slow. I think he’s still in a job as well!”
So what would have happened if Palace had signed Van Dijk? Well in the context of Palace’s current side, he would obviously boost their defence, but it is certainly the position where the Eagles are most capable. Gary Cahill, Mamadou Sakho, James Tomkins, Martin Kelly and Scott Dann represent five extremely experienced defenders at this level, after all.
That’s not to say a player of such obvious quality wouldn’t have improved the ranks. Back in 2014, during Warnock’s later stint in charge of the Eagles, he was sacked around Christmas time, and while Alan Pardew kept them in the Premier League, the 51 goals they conceded in the Premier League was the eighth-worst in the division that season. Though it would be too much to suggest van Dijk’s arrival would have shored up the backline enough to keep Warnock in a job, the Dutchman has made more tackles a game every season he’s been in England than any central defender the club had on their books that season.
So, missing out on him arguably did weaken their defence that season (though it’s unlikely one player would have helped make up the 12-point gap between Palace and Southampton in entry into the Europa League) and, of course, the campaigns going forward given his subsequent impact. After all, his average rating for Liverpool last season was absolutely mammoth in 7.44/10 (WhoScored) for the whole season – a score only bettered by Mohamed Salah at Liverpool, and a score bettered by nobody at Palace.
Presumably, if his career went in the same way at Palace as it did at Saints, then he could have earnt the Eagles a huge buck, but there’s nothing to prove that would mean Palace would be pushing for Europe any more than they are now, especially when you consider that Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s fee has hardly been reinvested with any venom.
While obviously missing out on a player of such clear quality is a blow, the fact that it’s reasonable to suggest he wouldn’t have made much of a difference right away (and the money may not be invested well even if he were sold for huge money like at Southampton), actually speaks to a wider problem at Selhurst Park. Roy Hodgson recently spoke of the need for further investment if they are going to qualify for European football, but the fact investment wasn’t forthcoming back then or even this summer, could speak to lack of ambition from a board the fans have previously criticised.
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