In the first passages of “When Eagles Dare”, the excellent documentary on Crystal Palace, President Steve Parish looks back on the struggles that the club he supported as a child had to establish itself in the Premier League.
“In the early 90s,” he said. “If you had been to Selhurst Park and Highbury you wouldn’t have had a different experience. We were in the same stratosphere. But we never seemed to seize the moment.”
Such a comparison between Palace and Arsenal is a bit of a stretch given the respective histories of the two London clubs.
However, this season, comparisons and contrasts will be inevitable.
Patrick Vieira is number four on Arsenal’s list of best players on the Gunners website. But now he’s a rival.
After stints with the development team Manchester City, New York City in Major League Soccer and Nice in France, the 45-year-old returned to the Premier League as Palace’s new manager.
His first game at the head on Saturday ended in a friendly 1-0 victory at Walsall, with Wilfried Zaha scoring the only goal.
‘Blank sheet of paper’
Vieira looked determined and pragmatic, but also found time to pose for a selfie with a flight attendant and sign autographs.
He kept that relaxed air for most of the first half.
It was 33 minutes before he left his seat in the canoe – for a word with Zaha, who was on that side of the pitch – which suggested he was using those 45 minutes as an assessment of his team’s strength. established.
After halftime, when the entire Palace squad were changed and given a much younger look, Vieira was a regular presence.
18-year-old forward Jesurun Rak-Sakyi has received a lot of attention. This may be because the former Chelsea academy player was closest to Vieira, but they also spoke again during the drink break and the conversations seemed more informative than the instructions given to his defenders .
It also reinforced the suggestion that Vieira is happiest when working with younger players.
Considering the white sheet of paper he has as a result of 10 Palace players reaching the end of their contracts last season at the same time as former boss Roy Hodgson, it could work very well.
Of the team involved in Hodgson’s first game in charge, against Southampton in September 2017, five have started against Walsall. Three others – Scott Dann, Andros Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt – did not leave until their contracts expired last month. Zaha was injured at the time, which shows how little the staff at the Palace have changed.
Vieira will be wary of such a small number of established players. Nathaniel Clyne has played Walsall despite being technically without a contract, but Palace’s first significant signing of the summer, 19-year-old winger Michael Olise, a £ 8million arrival from Reading, fits the bill perfectly. French model.
“Keep the ball, pass the ball”
It was clear that Vieira wants his team to respect possession but move the ball quickly.
Every now and then he strayed from his usual position, leaning forward, elbow on knee, finger on lips, studying concentration. He would point something out to his trusted coach Kristian Wilson, who has accompanied Vieira through every step of his coaching journey, starting with Manchester City.
A movement started on the right of the palace and was maneuvered to the left with quick, precise and short passes. If Tyrick Mitchell had found Zaha with his deep ball, that would have been perfect.
“We put a lot of emphasis on keeping the ball more and creating more chances with the players we have in the first third of the pitch,” defenseman Martin Kelly said afterwards.
“For us it’s about working as a team to give the ball to these guys – our ‘dangerous players’ as such.”
The enigma of Zaha
It was no surprise that Zaha turned out to be the winner of the match. His 180-degree turn inside Walsall’s half was followed by a blistering run to the edge of the box, a one-two with young forward Rob Street and a first finish .
Although he moved around in the game and got frustrated at times, whether with the referee, the opposition or his teammates, he seemed to be playing at a different level.
This summer again, speculation around Zaha will be intense. Again, the same question will be asked: will anyone be willing to pay the transfer fees Palace would want for a 28-year-old who has two more years on a lucrative and tight contract?
As previous transfer windows have shown, just because Zaha wants to test himself at a higher level again – after his short stint at Manchester United – doesn’t automatically mean that will happen.
Avoiding a repeat of De Boer
Vieira did not speak to reporters or Palace’s own media channels after the game and also ignored autograph requests at the end.
He did have a pretty important conversation though, speaking at length to Palace sporting director Dougie Freedman, who is credited with signing Olise and will be responsible for future transfers.
The conversation was friendly, as it would be at the start of the relationship. But Vieira is known for demanding high standards and keeping people on their toes.
What Palace certainly doesn’t want is a repeat of the Frank de Boer fiasco in 2017, when the The Dutchman was sacked after just four Premier League games.
The situation is undeniably similar, with a former legendary player from overseas succeeding an Englishman known for brilliantly organizing the teams.
Where the Dutchman has failed quickly and acutely after taking over from Sam Allardyce, Parish is hoping the Frenchman will be much more successful and a much longer tenure after taking over from Hodgson.
Lifting the Eagles alongside ex-Vieira club Arsenal may seem like a difficult task, but it’s safe to assume that the iconic former midfielder will not lack courage for his convictions.