Arsenal hero Patrick Vieira faces tough Crystal Palace tests in first Premier League job
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First it was Nuno Espirito Santo. Then it was Lucien Favre. Now, after both potential appointments failed at their last moments, Crystal Palace have turned to the former Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira to lead the club into a new era.
Vieira might not be the conventional replacement for Roy Hodgson but this is not a conventional market this summer. Clubs have found that a candidate’s demands are often financially or logistically implausible, and vice versa.
Only Tottenham’s protracted search for a new head coach trumps Palace’s for the length of time, for the number of characters and, to an extent, for its chaotic nature.
Palace had initially wanted a figure who possessed previous Premier League managerial experience to oversee a period of vast transition.
The ideal candidate in the primary phase of discussions was someone pragmatic enough to continue the work completed by Hodgson to preserve the club’s top-flight status. However, unlike the 73-year-old, the new man would need to be progressive enough to make the style of football more eye-catching.
They would also need to be savvy enough to organise a huge overhaul of a squad that had 11 players’ contracts expire as Wednesday ticked into Thursday. Some of those individuals may remain, but patience will soon run out.
Litmus tests for all three criteria scarcely exist with Vieira. His appointment is inherently a risk, and a far bigger one than Palace might initially have been prepared to take.
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The 45-year-old’s team at Nice, where he managed from 2018 until last year, primarily used a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-4-2 not dissimilar to the formation Hodgson often deployed at Palace.
But there is little experience of arresting a spiral towards the bottom of a division. Nor can Vieira point to a previous rebuild of a club as evidence that he can take on the tricky task at Selhurst Park.
There is no pattern of developing young players. Chairman Steve Parish, alongside sporting director Dougie Freedman, will want some return on the new £20million academy facilities that rival the set-ups of every club in the country outside of Manchester City and Chelsea.
Those factors come together to make Vieira seem like a slightly square peg in a round hole. But that is because he is.
The elephant in the room is that the former France international began the process nowhere near Palace’s favourite for the job.
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Parish initially preferred Sean Dyche. The Burnley boss would have been a natural successor to Hodgson – an excellent coach who is renowned for making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
That ability was seen as ideal to fill a role that would oversee a prolonged revamp of the first team.
But Dyche was likely to be too expensive to prise away from Burnley. An already limited transfer budget, considering the scale of the changes that must be made, did not need to be further depleted by sizeable compensation costs.
Next in line were Swansea City’s Steve Cooper and Frank Lampard, who departed Chelsea in January. Both are respected coaches with domestic experience and a proven record for developing players.
However, neither impressed enough for Palace to advance discussions. Lampard recently revealed that he is yet to be presented with a suitable enough offer to end his six-month exile from the touchline.
Nuno first came to Palace’s attention when he left Wolves at the end of the season. It was the 47-year-old’s entourage who initiated contact with the Eagles.
Talks progressed well right until the last moments. The Portuguese dithered, with Spurs and Everton also interested in his services, and Palace’s desire to move quickly meant that they pulled out.
Nuno was on Thursday named by Tottenham as Jose Mourinho’s successor. Everton have opted for the controversial appointment of the former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez.
Meanwhile, Palace pursued the ex-Borussia Dortmund coach Favre. He, like Nuno, had made the first contact with Palace.
The club reached as far as applying for a work permit, which came back accepted soon after the Swiss had conceded having second thoughts about taking the job.
Parish, alongside Freedman and the club’s American owners, will hope that Vieira is third time lucky.
He has 40 days to prepare for a tough opening fixture away to Chelsea. Palace open the season with four London derbies.
Vieira at least has vast experience of Premier League football. If Palace inherit the tactical nous and the steely nature of the Arsenal side Vieira heroically captained to an unbeaten top-flight campaign in 2003-04 then they will be successful.
But it is difficult to escape the fact that Vieira’s appointment is a product of the tough nature of appointing a manager during the pandemic. He arrives in one of this season’s most difficult Premier League jobs with an aura of intrigue.
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