Martin Kelly needed a fresh start in August 2014. Injuries had plagued the right-back throughout his time at Liverpool where he struggled to nail down a regular starting berth, leaving him lacking confidence both in his ability and his body.
When Crystal Palace came calling, it seemed a perfect fit, a chance for new life to be breathed into Kelly’s career and find his footing in the Premier League once more. “Now is the time when I need to get back to playing every week,“ after the transfer was announced, and while he is currently a regular first-teamer at Palace, it’s been far from plain sailing for the Scouser at Selhurst Park.
Kelly has been something of a bit-part player in the five seasons he has been at the club. Injury struggles have once again played their part, and as a result Kelly has found his place taken by others. The chopping and changing of managers at the club has also not helped in terms of establishing a consistency to the personnel in the starting 11.
But the right-back is now reaping the rewards for keeping his head down and working hard, establishing himself in a Crystal Palace defence that boasts the fourth-best defensive record in the Premier League this season, giving them a good chance of a top-half Premier League finish in the latest . It’s clear that manager Roy Hodgson values Kelly, with the defender rewarded with a new contract in February 2019.
After struggling to establish himself as a regular, it might have been easy for Kelly to seek a move away from Selhurst Park, to drop down to a Championship club to be guaranteed of first-team football. But his commitment to earning his place in a Premier League starting 11 is impressive, especially given the frustrations of constantly struggling with injuries.
Kelly is a full-back of a more old-fashioned mould than modern-day right–backs like Trent Alexander-Arnold or Kyle Walker. Where those two are jet-heeled, blistering attackers, Kelly is a player for whom defence will always come before attack. Tall, strong and sure-footed, he suits Palace’s line-up and Hodgson’s style of play perfectly.
For a while, it looked like Kelly was going to be the next big thing at Anfield. He made his debut in 2008 at the tender age of 18 in a Champions League match against PSV Eindhoven, and by the next season was making regular appearances. Without injuries curtailing his development as a player, Kelly could well have made a name for himself at Liverpool, but it wasn’t to be.
Now, he is enjoying life at Crystal Palace, where he’s in many ways the ideal Hodgson player – defensively sound, disciplined when he chooses to go forward, and capable of delivering a crunching tackle to rouse the Selhurst Park faithful. Hodgson has done a fine job since coming into the club to steady the ship after it was left rocking by Frank de Boer’s short tenure, and Kelly has benefitted from having a manager who places such high stock in the basics of defending.
Now 29 years old, it seems a shame that Kelly has just a little over 200 career appearances to his name. He is a player who has the qualities required to be a top-class Premier League defender, but injuries have undoubtedly played their part in stunting his potential and damaging his confidence.
But there is still time for Kelly to carve his name in the annals of great Premier League defenders. This season, he is flourishing having been given a consistent run of games, and Palace’s strong defensive resolve owes much to his performances – the kind of resolve that Kelly has had to show on a personal level throughout his career.