What’s the team news? Are Tomkins and McArthur close to a return?
McArthur I’m more doubtful of than James Tomkins. I think James Tomkins is getting very, very close to being able to play, to being included in the squad.
Patrick van Aanholt has a family issue that he has to take care of, so I don’t think we’ll be seeing him this weekend.
Apart from that it’s just the ones who are alongside McArthur, it’s Connor Wickham and Mamadou Sakho that are still unavailable for us.
Nathaniel Clyne has been sick today, but there’s been a bit of a 24-hour illness going round so it’s too early to rule him out, and I will have to see tomorrow if he’s recovered.
Palace are safe, how are you keeping motivated at this point of the season? There’s still games to be played. How do you keep them going?
Well in actually it’s the players who have to keep themselves going. We’ve been a bit unfortunate, in the sense of the last lockdown we seemed to get a very tough schedule right at the end and the same has happened to us again.
So it’s fortunate in a way that we got points we really needed before these last four or five games, six games even, because we’re playing the best teams in the country during that period.
But I think the players themselves, they have enough pride in their performance, pride as professionals – respecting in actual fact the job that everyone wants them to do. That’s what keeps us going. I’ve not noticed any particular slacking off in the training sessions. Certainly I have players who want to play the game, I’ve got nobody holding his hand up saying the season’s virtually over for us, please let me have a rest. The ones who are out at the weekend are still as angry as they would have been earlier on in the season. That’s the main point.
There is a fairly good excuse for the players to feel fairly proud of what they’ve done. It’s not easy to stay in this league, especially year after year. We haven’t had the best of situations with injuries. Since January we’ve been missing people like Tomkins and Sakho and James McArthur virtually throughout; Wilf Zaha had a period on the sidelines as did Jeffrey Schlupp so it’s not as if we’ve always had our full first-team compliment available.
But people have kept going, and it is – in my opinion, anyway – an achievement to make certain that you stay away from the relegation zone and the relegation-threatened zone. Because there’s no doubt that games become very tough when you’re frightened all the time that any false step you take could plummet you into the relegation zone and have everyone crying out that you’re going to be relegated come the end of the season. It’s not a nice thing to have happen to you.
You’ll be facing Jack Grealish on Sunday. Should England fans be excited about the potential of him at the Euros this summer? Has he got the ability to light up the tournament?
I detect a slight Irish accent there – I suppose you’d be one who was not that happy that he was persuaded to commit his future to England?
At one stage Martin O’Neill was working really hard to get him to forget England youth team football and Under-21s football and go directly into the Irish national team. I definitely think that is England’s gain. That was a fortunate moment in time when Jack decided he would commit himself to England, for whom he had been playing, let’s be fair, since Under-18 level.
Since that time – I’m talking at least seven years ago when that happened – he’s matured and improved as a player enormously.
There’s no doubt that Jack Grealish when he’s 100% fit is going to be a hard guy to leave out of any England squad, or any other team in the world for that matter.
I’m really disappointed for him to have to deal with this injury situation, which of course is a major setback. Because it’s going to put Gareth Southgate under that sort of pressure that I’ve experienced myself as an England manager on occasion.
There’s a player you really want but he’s not been playing on a regular basis for a long period of time: do you take a chance with his fitness? Or do you accept, you know, I’ve got to leave him out to go for someone who’s been playing every week? It’s a tough, tough decision.
But is Jack good enough and would Jack be a player who in his best form could make a difference to the England team? I think everyone would agree that he could.
How big a factor is match fitness or sharpness as an international manager?
It’s a very good question. I feel I have to throw back ‘what is match sharpness’? That is the problem. We use that term, it’s banded about – ‘he’s lacking match fitness, he’s lacking match sharpness’.
Really there’s no real way of knowing what match fitness and match sharpness is. Often we disguise it as someone who’s got back in the team and is maybe not playing quite as well as he was before he got injured, and we put it down to match fitness.
I think it’s an almost impossible one to make a scientific decision on. It’s going to be a question of what Gareth wants to do with his squad, what position he sees players playing in and to what extent he’s prepared to wait for a player who he thinks is very important to take him with them.
I’ve done that in the past in tournaments, you get enough players – in fact this year you get three more even than the 23. I did that in both tournaments but I can’t say I guess that it was a roaring success.
The gamble if you like that we took with the player finding his fitness and finding his form after missing so much of the last games of the season… I wouldn’t like to be the one giving advice as to what the right decision there is, I think that it’s very much an individual problem.
There have been reports this week about next week being a potential farewell for you in front of returning Crystal Palace fans. What have you made of those reports? Have you anything to say on that?
No, nothing at all. I haven’t read the report to be perfectly honest. I’ve said all along there will be a time for an announcement as to what my future is going to be and I will make that announcement, but I haven’t seen reports or speculation. I guess that’s been going on for some while now, it seems I’ve been answering these sort of questions for the last two and a half months. I assume there must have been stuff written as well, I just don’t read it.
Regardless of what happens, do you want to continue on in football next season?
Once again, when the time comes for me to speak openly about the subject I will speak openly about the subject. But today isn’t the moment because today is the press conference to preview our match against Aston Villa, which I think is an important match for us because we won against Sheffield United, we lost three before that, we lost again against Southampton. So we’re we’re not on a great run of form in terms of taking points and we’ve got an opportunity to take points on Sunday. I want full focus to be on that.
When the time comes for me to speak openly about what my future will look like, I will do so.
No suggestion that players have slacked off. Is 50 points a carrot as well? If you win your last three, that would be the best ever points total in the Premier League for Palace.
Yes, but I fear that teams of the quality of Aston Villa, Liverpool and Arsenal might have something to say about that. I don’t know that I should set that in front of them as a realistic goal.
It’s something we’ll go for, something we’ll try for as we try to win every game. But realistically it’s not going to be easy for us to get nine points and three successive wins against that level of opponent. In fact, one could go further, it’s not easy to get nine points and three successive wins against any group of opponent in this league, let alone the likes of teams that are right at the top.
So I don’t expect to see any slacking off. The players still want to play in the games. When I pick a team, there’s players there who are left out; they are still a little bit disappointed or angry with me, perhaps, I don’t know, because they want to play. And that’s important. I don’t fear that. What I fear in terms of results is the quality of our opponents, that’s what I fear. I know we’ll be playing against teams with a lot of good players who are equally as motivated as us and capable themselves of winning the game. That’s my only concern, if you can call it a concern, it’s not that we won’t go out and do what we’re capable of doing.
Christian Benteke scored again this week, given his return this season – how much credit does he deserve for his mental strength? As a striker, goals is your business.
Absolutely, it’s a good point. He does deserve a lot of credit for what he’s done. These are things only he can help himself with. What we can help him with is by trying to retain our faith, trying to give him the support and backing that we can give. I’m sure that when he looks back on it, he will hold his hands up and say that we did do that. We didn’t jump at the opportunity to take him out of the team when he was going through a bad run of goalscoring.
So we’ve stuck with him in that respect, but he’s also stuck with it and he’s the one really who’s been able to turn the corner, turn the tide. He deserves an enormous amount of credit for it and I’m rather hoping that in the last three games of the season he’ll be playing as well as he’s been playing in the recent games because he’s got the Euros coming up.
Who knows what’s going to happen in those Euros? Lukaku has been the main man for Roberto Martinez during this period of time, but who knows what’s going to happen? I would like to think that if Christian Benteke is given a chance perhaps in place of Lukaku for one reason or another, he’d be ready to take it.
Villa have slightly tailed off in the second half of the season, but an impressive season given their struggles last season?
Yeah they’ve been very good, both they and West Ham who last season were struggling near the bottom. This time they’re near the top of the table and they must be very, very satisfied with that.
Jack Grealish has played an enormous part in their success, and you talk about tailing off, it might be quite as simple as when you lose a player of his calibre, who is such a talisman for the team, often there is some sort of drop off. We’ve experienced it ourselves on so many occasions in the past. You don’t take players of that quality out of teams and then expect them just to carry on scything their way through the league.
But they’ve got a lot of very good players, and a lot of players who have improved enormously this year. So they are going to be a tough nut to crack. I can only congratulate them on the season they’ve had.
They’re tough to score against as well, 15 clean sheets in the Premier League. Testament to the job they’ve done defensively.
Yes, but I’m certain that Dean will say they defend from the front, they defend right the way through the team so they defend very well as a team, it’s not just a question of the keeper having a good season, the two centre-backs grabbing headlines from time to time..
I’m pretty sure that Dean will point out that they are a good team going forward and defending, and that’s why they’re able to keep teams out.
It won’t be easy for us to score our goals against them on Sunday, but I’m pleased we’ll have the opportunity to try.
Christian Benteke’s in good form and his contract is running out – does it mean the club want to tie him up quicker?
Well I think that the matter is in hand. Obviously if you’re whose contract is running out and you’re in good form suddenly the chips fall into your favour more than the other way around. If you’re not playing well and your contract is running out, perhaps it’s the club who hold the cards. At the moment he’s in a good position in that respect.
I’m pretty sure that the club know what he can do, they know his qualities. I’ve seen him for four years, they’ve have seen him for four and a half, I think. So in actual fact his longevity at the club is well-documented.
I also know that Steve Parish and Doug Freedman are in contact with the agents of all of these players whose contracts are running out, but I can’t give you any direct update as to where it stands and whether Christian Benteke is anxious to leave or anxious to stay.
UEFA have announced it’s going to be a 26-man squad for the Euros. Gareth Southgate was an initially against that, he said there’s a skill to picking a 23. Do you agree with that?
Well it’s like the five subs argument. There are lots of pros and cons, most arguments have some validity.
I do sympathise with Gareth, it’s very difficult to pick 23 players and leave out some you’ve probably been working with for a long period of time and tell them that there’s no place in the squad. But adding to the squad numbers doesn’t necessarily improve matters. It just means that the three extra players you’ve taken who you wouldn’t have taken had it been 23 will only be hanging around and not getting much game time or not featuring as much as they would like in the team.
The one thing that it probably will be good for I would argue this time around, and will be quite relevant for Gareth – these injuries which are occurring quite late on and not having much time for recovery before he has to name a squad, and start working with the squad. The extra players could possibly give him the chance to take those players and see what happens and how their recovery pans out without having to make a definite decision about them before it’s 100% necessary.
But as I say, there’s lots of pros and cons. It’s not easy to keep 23 players happy for that period of time at the tournament, especially if your team is fairly settled and you’re not making a lot of changes game to game. That’s an awful lot of players spending a lot of time away from home, a lot of time in a bubble, a lot of time really at the end of a long season working very hard to represent their country. As a manager it’s a very tough job to keep those boys on board.
On Christian Benteke, has the extra competition from Jean-Philippe Mateta has provided since January has maybe contributed to his form?
I’m not sure. I’ve got to say that I believe that the motivation and the desire to produce the performances that he’s been giving has come from within.
I’m not sure he looks around and suddenly thinks ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to play’. There’s been competition before that, because Wilf Zaha has played up there, Jordan Ayew has played up there. We’ve had Michy Batshuayi. Michy Batshuayi is a real quality centre-forward.
I’m pretty certain that it’s been good for us to have players like Mateta to keep him honest, if you like, but it hasn’t been necessary to keep him honest. It’s a motivation that’s come fully from within to do well for the club, to make certain that he shows himself in a good life and presumably also to make certain that when the Euros come around he’s in the best possible form.
Your own future is always talked about. You wouldn’t strike me as the type of person who would want a fanfare when it does come time to bow out?
I haven’t talked about retirement as yet. There will come a time I’m certain in my life when I talk about retirement, but I’m not talking about it yet.