March 31, 2023
Why did Crystal Palace have to sack Patrick Viera?

Why did Crystal Palace have to sack Patrick Viera?

Patrick Viera – Why Crystal Palace had to sack Patrick Viera – Getty Images/Paul Harding

What is the best time of day to fire a coach? Moments before stepping on the training ground? Or summoned as a doomed man, pulling into his premium parking space for what he knows in his heart is for the last time?

Maybe a phone call at home. Or one while he’s in the car. Or by club decree written on parchment and delivered by a man on horseback. One only asks because it seems there were a lot of surprises in Steve Parish’s call to Patrick Vieira at 7am on Friday to relieve him of his duties at Crystal Palace.

Made on the basis, one suspects, that once the decision is made, it may as well be passed on quickly so that the man in question does not find out from the newspapers or 24-hour news channels. The other question looms: could it have been a surprise?

Vieira was winless in 11 league games since New Year’s Eve. The club is in a relegation battle with five of the last eight teams having changed managers. Indeed, the fixture list may look kinder to Palace after Sunday’s visit to Arsenal, but there’s no certainty the team was in a position to take advantage.

Palace have been terminally unable to score goals. Their only two in their last seven home games have been a goalkeeper error against Brighton and a Michael Olise off-target free kick against Manchester United. They have their lowest goal total at this stage of a Premier League season.

Their expected goals metric, 0.78, since the post-World Cup restart is the lowest of any club by far. At the very least, there had to be a conversation about Vieira and his staff at Palace, and when it comes to surviving in the Premier League, there is significant risk in maintaining the status quo.

No one would want to see Vieira, a leading figure in English football history and a good man, judging by their post-match interactions, be sacked. But no one could have seriously considered Palace’s form, and the state of the relegation battle, and he declared that the trade was off the table.

Vieira’s former team-mate Vincent Kompany expressed his own dismay at the decision, saying it was not justified given Palace’s 12th position, recent run of tough opponents, Wilfried Zaha’s injury and the resources available. “What they have done”, he concluded, based on the fact that Palace is not in the relegation zone, “is to remove a coach who is surpassing”.

If Palace’s form in 2023 is getting better then it looks like they could outperform them all the way to the Championship, most likely going past Kompany’s Burnley along the way. A team that cannot score goals and that has gone, like Palace before the loss to Brighton on Wednesday, three games without an attempted goal, does not have much of a chance of survival.

Across all four divisions, only Forest Green Rovers have collected fewer points in 2023 than Palace. There will undoubtedly be doubts about Palace’s commitment to the transfer market. Of course, the demand is for every struggling club to spend itself in oblivion to stay on its feet, but that has never been Palace’s way.

They are in their longest consecutive top-flight run in their history: 10 years, a rebuild dating back to the management chaos in 2010. Most years it’s a street fight to keep Palace on their feet.

A club in the bottom eight of the Premier League by revenue, and in a stadium with a pleasantly raucous atmosphere and plenty of nostalgia. As the old joke goes, if you want to see what Selhurst Park looked like in the 1960s, just go there now.

It’s no match for the two gleaming 21st century creations in north London or, indeed, Fulham’s redeveloped Riverside Stand or whatever sci-fi fantasy sees Chelsea’s new owners pose for Stamford Bridge. Palace spent £70m in the 2021 summer transfer window and £40m last year.

There was more investment in January, all of it a drop in the bucket compared to what others spent, but part of a sustainable plan. The wage bill has fallen and the workforce is younger than the days of the old guard of 2020-2021. It’s not perfect, but that’s the tightrope the club walks every season.

Palace have built a £30m academy for their South London talent pipeline. They can also claim to have played a role in English Chelsea talent Conor Gallagher and previously Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

The firing will no doubt sting Vieira and his former teammates have understandably been quick to defend him, but he may look back with pride. Lasting 21 months at Palace is an achievement.

He now has a survival season on his record and that counts for a lot. The task of keeping clubs like Palace in the most competitive league in the world is never-ending, and what worked last season may not always work next. Not a bad start in life as an English football manager for Vieira.

The only caveat is that at clubs like Palace you can’t hang out as a benign experiment to see if your team’s relegation form turns into real relegation. Vieira’s old mentor, Arsene Wenger, was relegated in his final season at Nancy in 1987 and did not harm his career.

The same summer he landed the job at Monaco with a managerial career win rate at that point of 29 per cent. The problem is that a club like Palace can’t afford to give their manager that kind of learning experience these days.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *