I will confess that often writing pieces for The Eagle’s Beak is my form of Palace therapy.
When something in the Palace world is troubling me it is time get on the keyboard and write my way through the problem. Not that anything I write will make any difference in reality! So it is not surprising, given the happy state of affairs at the moment that I am struggling to find anything that is worrying me to write about. It is too soon to start to ponder the close season and the 2022-23 season in any detail but with so much still to play for, it is worth considering our run in and what might happen thereafter. I am ignoring our FA Cup semi-final as by the time this is posted we will know our fate – let’s just hope it is a positive one!
In the league we still have three more matches in April and four in May so there is still lots to play for and possibly go wrong, or right. As has been noted elsewhere in the press we do have one of the easier run ins to the end of the season with only one top half club to play and the way Manchester United are going even they may be struggling to keep their place in the top half of the table. Unfortunately, the last time we had what was perceived as an easier run of matches during November and December we came away with little to show for it. Hopefully the better run of recent results shows how much we have progressed under Vieira as the season has gone on and we can accumulate enough points to cement a top half finish and maybe more if fate really smiles on us!
Regardless of what the upcoming matches bring, however, the season has turned out far better than anyone dreamed. With all of the pre-season pundits predicting relegation; a possible top half finish and at least an FA Cup semi-final we can all conclude the season has been a success.
The question then becomes, next season. The pessimist in me looks at Watford in the 2018-19 season – 50 points, 11th in the table and a FA Cup Final (Okay, the 6-0 thrashing by Manchester City did not look good). However, the following season they were relegated and finished second bottom in the league. The optimist in me assumes (hopes) that Vieira is not tempted away and hopes that all of the young stars hang around for at least one more season. The big questions seem to be Tyrick Mitchell and Michael Olise, based on media speculation, but ideally they will want at least one more season of playing regular football with the lure of a top ten or even a European place finish to add some gloss to their CVs. Whether Wilf stays on would be the subject of a whole article in itself so I will not start that one!
With a summer of a selective pruning of some of our veteran players, retention of certain key older heads and a couple of Dougie Freedman golden nuggets added in we could really push on next season.
Although I am sure if the right offer came along Patrick Vieira would take it, my feeling is he is not going anywhere anytime too soon. For a start he seems to be wise enough to know that it is risky to run before you can walk in the Premier League management world. There is no doubt he has surprised a number of sceptics regarding his talents as a Premier League manager and I am hoping he would want at least a year or two building on the experience of this season before he tests himself in the higher expectation and pressure arena of a top six club.
In any event, Patrick does really seem to have bought into what CPFC is all about. Despite having been at the pinnacle of the Premier League and international football as a player he clearly knows that was not where he started out in life and he seems to get the South London underdog spirit which has driven Palace for many years. In my dreams he follows his own career trajectory as our manager and takes us to the very top, but sadly financial realities mean that is no more than a dream – I will gladly settle for a European tour even if it is to some obscure outposts.
Similarly the younger players who have made such an impact all seem to have bought into that South London & Proud ethic regardless of where they have come from. Once again it would be unrealistic to expect Marc Guehi, Mitchell, Olise and Eberechi Eze, to stay at Palace for their entire career if they continue to develop on their current trajectory but two-three more years with us could do their careers and Palace a great deal of good.
Regardless of what happens for the rest of this season we should be hoping for a more modest refresh of the squad (compared to last summer) and a season of building on and consolidating the huge gains from this season. A new playing style with players suited to that style allied with the CPFC never say die sprit has taken us far this season and could take us much further next.
Of course I should also make a passing reference to the ownership question which should be resolved soon. Either we are looking to replace two minority owners or hopefully Harris and Blitzer’s failed flirtation will be forgotten and we can move on. Although I have always known that Harris and Blitzer’s interest in Place was first and foremost about making money, I do wonder whether the public approach to buy a leading Premier League club means that ultimately there is no way back for them even if the Chelsea bid fails.
If they are to sell their interest in Palace my hope is that can be done in an orderly way without too much financial and management disruption and that suitable replacement investors are found. John Textor may well end up as that replacement investor but my instinct is it would be better for Palace not to throw all of their financial eggs in that basket.
In any event, for now we should enjoy the fantastic season which is drawing to what I hope will be a exciting close.