How are you feeling after your final home game?
Yeah I don’t know. I’m a bit drained, I suppose. It’s been such a fantastic couple of days I’ve been really quite knocked over by all the kind words and everything that happened here tonight. And yet I’ve seen us lose a game in the last four or five minutes, a game which I thought we were good value for at least a point. I’m afraid the football part of me still feels that.
I know that I should be seeing the bigger picture, I should be celebrating the wonderful reception I got, the guard of honour from both teams – I’ve never seen that before. The reception from the fans and the performance of the players gave, especially through the second half when we really took the game to Arsenal and looked like we were capable of scoring against them. So I’m just hoping that when the dust settles I’ll have a happier feeling about what happened here tonight.
But the one thing I certainly will never forget is the reception that I’ve been given and I’ll never forget either the incredibly nice things that have been said about my career. I suppose that does count for more than the 90 minutes of football at the end of the day.
An emotional day. Did you prepare your words at the final whistle?
No I didn’t. I’m not a great lover of prepared speeches. I think that I try to prepare mentally in the sense of who am I talking to and what sort of things do I want to say to them so that I don’t give a speech that’s got nothing to do with the audience. So I prepare that, but then I don’t prepare after that. I just say the things I feel and what I’d like to say. Hopefully it will be what people want to hear as well, but that’s the way I always try to do it. It’s pretty spontaneous, although I didn’t know I was going to have to make a speech so I could get my head around that fact.
What has been your favourite moment in charge of Palace?
I know what my favourite moment will be if you’ll ask me that question with some sort of distance to tonight because it will undoubtedly be tonight. That will probably be the abiding memory. The outpouring of emotion for the job that Ray and I and the rest of the staff here have done, I think that you don’t always get that at a football club, it’s not so common that every manager will be treated that way when he leaves a club. So that will be the abiding memory.
And then of course once you look back deeper into the four years you’ve got to think about lots of separate occasions.
I’d like to think that I’m going to be wise enough to remember the moments like tonight, the moments like the training sessions and the experience I’ve had with these players and seeing them grow and develop, many of them. And how I’ve seen them lay their body on the line so often for the club in order to get results. They’re the sort of memories one should have really, rather than the spectacular goal or spectacular win.
Clear that the players are still prepared to run through brick walls for you
Well I think it’s such an emotional occasion, the players did exceptionally well tonight. Even though I can’t say that my announcement hit them as a bombshell, I suppose that until such time as you get the message you might be half-expecting or in some cases even fearing, you do crack on and hope maybe that things will go the way you want them to go.
And that was compounded by the fact that Eberechi Eze picked up that serious injury with nobody around him and totally out of the blue. I think those two incidents alone cast an enormous dampener on proceedings.
So for them to go out tonight and get back into the game. I thought Arsenal started well and we weren’t as close to them or stopping them in the way we would like, but I thought we certainly did in the second half. I thought we were in control for large periods of the game so that makes the actual defeat a tough pill to swallow.
But I’ve got absolutely no regrets at all for the performance. I’m absolutely full of praise for the players for putting on that performance in the light of what they’ve had to deal with over the last couple of days.
You’ve said that football was a bit like a drug to you. How difficult is it going to be leaving football?
Well I don’t have a drug that I’m contemplating replacing it with. But as I’ve tried to say on many occasions, I’m stepping down, I’m stepping aside and I really don’t know what the future will bring.
But I’m not making the fanfare announcement that I’m retiring and you’ll never see me anywhere near football again. I prefer to leave avenues open because who knows what the future will bring?
I’m still enthusiastic enough and energetic enough to go back into football in some capacity. The big question is going to be whether I want to. And part of that is going to depend on the drug issue, as it were.
Am I going to be able to wean myself off something which has been so good to me for 45 years? Something which has been so good to me and selfishly I’ve pursued really at the cost of all else, not least of all my wife and son. I’m hoping I’m going to be clever enough, sensible enough, intelligent enough to find other areas and aspects of my life that I want to really follow and do something with.
I would lie to you if I say it’s going to be easy to forget all about football and never experience maybe moments when I find myself saying that I wish I was still there.
Just on the squad tonight, were there injury problems for Benteke and Mitchell tonight? Tomkins came in for 90 minutes.
The squad’s been decimated. Well, not decimated, that’s ridiculous to say that. But it’s been hard hit. Losing first of all Scott Dann, not recovering James McArthur which we had some hopes for. Losing Scott Dann to a minor strain. Obviously the bench has become a little lop sided. We don’t quite have the options we would like in midfield, we had to move Cheikh in to midfield to give us his energy and his work-rate and his strength in there. I thought that quite well and luckily Tomkins was there to take his place.
If we’re going to find on Friday that there are others players who are going to be ruled out of the game on Sunday then I’m afraid our bench is not going to be anywhere near as strong as it’s been for the last few weeks.
Benteke injury? Or Mitchell?
Chris, it looked like he was feeling something around his Achilles or his ankle. I’ve not checked up with physios yet because I’ve been quite busy after the game.
Tyrick I wasn’t quite so aware, I think that could quite simply be the fatigue.
We’re not a team that relishes two matches in three days, even less a team that relishes three matches in six or seven days. We found that out last year when we had project restart.
The type of squad we have really needs that week in between games to prepare. So Sunday’s game might prove quite difficult in that respect. But I’ll have to take issue with that on Friday when I see the players again.
Rak-Sakyi was on the bench, were you tempted to bring him on or just a reward to be on the bench?
No, far from it really. It’s a reward for his performances, yes, and it shows that we believe in him. But we wanted to get that result. We wanted at least a 1-1, even possibly 2-1. I thought we were very much in line to get that. It was never a question of putting someone on to get them a game, I wanted the players on the field who could help us win the game and we got so close.
You’re someone who loves training sessions. It will be your last ones coming up, have you got anything special planned?
These days unfortunately it’s either recovering players from the last game or preparing them one game before the next game.
The type of sessions we’ve done throughout the four years, they’ve been done far, far less frequently over the last month or so quite simply because of the amount of games and the proximity of the games.
Your relationship with Christian Benteke. He’s gone through some tough times but you’ve stuck by him and he’s had his best season for a while. Do you have a bit of a father/son relationship?
No, I wouldn’t say that. That would be unfair and would be asking too much of Christian to accept a statement like that.
But I do think that he’s come through injuries. Even during the times when it wasn’t going well for him and he wasn’t scoring goals and he was getting a lot of criticism, he was always in my opinion trying to do his best for the team and it’s very nice to see albeit at this very late stage that he’s really re-found, if you like, the sort of playing form that he had at Aston Villa all those years ago which got him the big-money move to Liverpool and a further big-money move to Crystal Palace.
So I hope that he can keep that up and I hope he can take it into next season.
You spoke about Eze’s injury briefly there, can you tell us how that happened?
No-one knows. He received a short pass, he controlled the ball and went to turn with the ball and next thing we know he’s lying on the floor and obviously in extreme pain. He has felt something in his Achilles that isn’t right.
Unfortunately when that was checked by the doctor with the ultrasound, it looked as though there was an injury, a problem there, and it was confirmed by the MRI and now an operation has been planned for him.