Favourite XI – Central Midfielders
It is international weekend once again but fear not, it gives us the perfect opportunity to conclude our ‘Favourite XI’ feature that we have been filling the void with.
If you are late to the party then you can catch up on our choices of favourite goalkeeper, defenders and wingers by heading over to the ‘Opinion’ section of TEB.
This, our penultimate article of the feature, is all about central midfielders. This is another position that the club have been blessed with so read on to find out which ones have been picked by a selection of our writing team here at TEB.
REMEMBER – a ‘favourite’ player does not always have to be the ‘best’ player as you will know from previous selections and those made below.
GEOFF THOMAS – There is no-one else. As a player, he was immense. As a person, he’s a hero. Pipping Jimbo to the captaincy, I can’t imagine anyone else I’d want leading the team. Joining from Crewe as a complete unknown, he turned into a key figure under Sir Steve and guided Palace to their first ever FA Cup Final and lifting our only major cup a year later. Injury blighted much of his career after Palace and whilst he was known outside Selhurst for that chance against France, inside Selhurst he’ll always be the skipper.
MICHAEL HUGHES – It’s tempting to put Geoff’s partner-in-crime, Andy Gray here but to be honest I always found him to be a bit of a ….. despite his two-footed leaps. I’ve gone for someone with similar tenacity and tackling ability though, and little Michael Hughes keeps the barrier in front of the defence solid. Another guy who gave no inch on the pitch but was friendly and chatty off it. Through various spells as captain, Hughes was treated shoddily by various managers but always proved to be a fan’s favourite, including mine. (Also, sorry Aki, it was so tough to leave you out. You’re on the bench though, if it makes you feel better.)
JONNY WILLIAMS – There is nothing more exciting than seeing a young player come through the system and claim a regular spot in the first team and the now Welsh international took to first team football in late 2011 like the proverbial duck to water. Williams’ career has sadly curtailed due to regular long-term injuries but his two years in the first team came at an exciting time when the foundations for the current Palace side were being manufactured. A career as a top Premier League player cruelly prevented by injuries.
YOHAN CABAYE – The French international receives some harsh stick from Palace fans but earns himself a place in this team purely because his arrival came during the most exciting time to support the club in recent years. Signing a player of Cabaye’s calibre would have seemed unimaginable just twelve months before, and the club signaled their clear intent by bringing him to Selhurst Park. His role in the side is a little misunderstood and his performances have heavily improved in recent months having been given more freedom under Sam Allardyce. He could still become a big hero at Palace.
DARREN AMBROSE – 42 goals from midfield. Half of them from outside the penalty area. One from outside the Manchester ring road. Sometimes a player just fits a club and Dazza worked a treat here. Sheffield Wednesday on the last day, Old Trafford and an often overlooked volley versus Sheffield United in a crunch relegation battle. Ambrose has given us more magic moments than any other player in my time. And the best bit, he was a Charlton cast off. Who the **** is laughing now?
AKI RIIHILAHTI – A website, a newspaper article and a lovely man. I once met a Finnish girl in Thailand and she hated football, with one exception – Aki! “He’s not like other footballers, he’s a good man!” she told me. Truer words have never been spoken. He always gave everything on the pitch and was a gentleman off it. Announcing himself by scoring against England the day after his arrival, Aki always worked hard for the team, showing commitment and skill. For me though, there were two moments that shone out above all others. One was his uncharacteristic 30 yard screamer against Wimbledon in a 4-0 win and the other was his equaliser against ‘invincible’ Arsenal in 2004. His smile could have lit up the entirety of South London that night.
STUART O’KEEFE – Alright, so some of you may say ‘she could have gone with so many better players than SOK’. ‘She could have had Jedi, or Hughesy or even Aki’. But, remember, this is our ‘Favourite XI’ and SOK was one of mine of my favourites. As with a lot of the players I have chosen for this season, O’Keefe wasn’t prolific. He wasn’t outstanding and he wasn’t necessarily the best, but he certainly was a character. He was with us through promotion in 2013/14 and enormously underrated in that play off final. Who could also forget that goal against Aldershot in pre-season, the year we got promoted. Just ask Terence Ford of RedNBlueArmy and Chris ‘Skippy’ Windsor!
SOK was one of a collective of players like Jonny Williams whose match fitness wasn’t of Premier League standard and spent some time out on loan at a couple of clubs and much like the afore-mentioned Welshman, he never quite cracked the big time. He eventually moved permanently in 2015, as he wasn’t part of Pardew’s vision. Another mistake! I guess I don’t have any real justification as to why I’ve picked him, other than he was just one of those really likeable players, who just didn’t get his chance. Andy Street, this one is for you.
DAVID HOPKIN – “Hopkin’s looking to curl one….” THAT goal against Sheffield United is now infamous among Palace fans and for that single moment, I choose Mr David Hopkin. He catapulted Palace into the then Premiership and will forever be a part of Eagles history. After only a short amount of time with us, the Scot really is a Palace legend.
MILE JEDINAK – There aren’t enough superlatives in the world that I can use to describe Mile Jedinak. Signed as an unknown from a Turkish side I cannot spell or pronounce, nobody knew he would grow to legendary status in the five years he was with us. This man captained the side through some of its more challenging times both in the Premier League and lower leagues. He’s a warrior, and every game was a battle which nearly every time, he came out on top. Sure, his passing is shocking, and yes, he could give away a lot of clumsy fouls, but, all was made up for by that magnificent beard, beautifully trimmed and maintained for every game. This however, doesn’t cover everything. This man, like Julian Speroni, defined our club. The passion and spirit of Palace faded a little after his departure, but it was always on show with Jedinak. He was a captain, leader, and a true gent. I firmly believe we will miss him hugely in the coming years.
DARREN AMBROSE – He was a bang average midfielder. Worked hard, but possessed little in terms of ability and technical precision, arguably two of the most important traits for his position. He showed glimpses of the player that earned under 19 and 21 England call ups, but never truly shone through as a raw talent. However, Ambrose singlehandedly saved our club from collapse with his goal against Sheffield Wednesday on the final day of the 2010 season. He scored that stunning free kick against Villa in the FA Cup, and who could forget THAT goal at Old Trafford. Darren Ambrose then, not a great player, but the player that I hold the fondest memories of. The player I always think of when I look back at some great goals scored by Palace. He saved the club, and for that, I think, he will be regarded as the most significant player we’ve ever had. Thanks Darren.
AKI RIIHILAHTI – Everyone just adores Aki right? I mean, James has already said plenty. You just cannot fail to love him (Aki I mean, not James!). The Finn was not far off making 200 appearances for the club and contributed with 14 goals in his time in South London. Like many central midfielders that Palace have been lucky enough to have both before and after Aki, he worse his heart on his sleeve. While he was not the most talented player, he knew how to play in his position and more than anything, knew his limitations. Fans just adore players that battle and work hard but with the personality to match, the Finn has a special place in Palace fans hearts but it is not one way. That special bond stays with a player like Aki and it is no secret that he is a fan of the club even though his time playing in South London ended several years ago.
SASA CURCIC – We have enjoyed plenty of fine central midfielders at Palace – Michael Hughes, Andy Gray, Ray Houghton, Geoff Thomas, Dave Madden to name a handful straight off the top of my head. My choice however, is one that takes me back to my Championship Manager days hunting the Eastern European transfer market for a diamond in the rough, and a name to match. There is no doubt that Luka Milivojevic will take that mantle sooner rather than later and is well on his way in doing so but my choice is a player that we had a lot of fun watching for what was only a short time before he became a victim of cost cutting measures after the Mark Goldberg era. The excentic Yugoslav, Sasa Curcic, arrived in South London from Aston Villa and only played a little over 20 games for the club. In that time, the charastmatic midfielder scored 5 goals making an immediate impact in his debut against Derby County. He left a bit of a mark on the Palace fanbase and will always be fondly remembered, it’s just a real shame we didn’t get to enjoy more of him.
DO NOT MISS OUR FINAL ARTICLE OF OUR ‘FAVOURITE XI’ FEATURE TOMORROW AS WE PICK OUR FAVOURITE STRIKERS