It’s been a long six weeks or so for Crystal Palace since Roy Hodgson left Selhurst Park for the final time, but at last they have their new manager in place.
Arsenal legend Patrick Vieira is the man tasked with leading the Eagles’ next chapter, and he has quite the job on his hands.
The Frenchman has been given the faith of Steve Parish to undertake a rebuild pretty much unlike anything previously seen in the Premier League era. The squad he inherits has just 14 senior players under contract, and the future of one or two of those – including Wilfried Zaha – is far from certain.
The task at hand would be enough to scare off even the most battle-hardened of managers. So, there are understandable reservations over whether Vieira, with just four full seasons of first-team management under his belt, is the right man to steady the ship.
But this is the fearless Patrick Vieira we’re on about. The guy who stood unflinching in the face of Roy Keane and challenged him to a scrap in the tunnel. For want of a better word, he’s famously hard, and if we ever get around to doing an updated version of the Premier League’s Hardest Managers, we’ve got a new contender for top spot.
All that is to say he doesn’t back down from a challenge. So taking Palace up a gear after eight years of comfortable mediocrity, despite not actually having any players, probably won’t faze him.
You don’t have to dig too deep beneath the surface of his career so far to learn that the Vieira years could be a fun ride. He prioritises attacking football and taking risks, and this philosophy bled through at New York City, who were one of the best teams to watch in MLS during his two-year tenure.
His time at Nice was a little more hit and miss. Back in his native France, Vieira was forced to deal with boardroom turmoil on an unprecedented scale – within months of his arrival, their sporting director and head of recruitment were forced out by notorious owner Chien Lee, who was soon bought out by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe.
Dealing with all that as well as a high turnover of players, Vieira delivered two strong seasons before things boiled over in December 2020. A dramatic dip in form, partially blamed on Vieira’s inconsistent team selections and increasingly pragmatic tactics, had them sinking fast.
They were fighting relegation and out of the Europa League before the turn of the year.
Ratcliffe pulled the plug, and here we are today.
Vieira’s career has had its up and downs so far, and it’s difficult to predict how he will get on at Palace – especially at a time where their squad needs new players in virtually every position.
What could serve them well, however, is his tactical realism. He wants to attack and entertain, and that will be music to the ears of Zaha and Eberechi Eze. But he also knows there is a time and a place for parking the bus – a specialty Hodgson perfected over the years at Selhurst Park.
Upon taking the Nice job in 2018, Vieira said: “I’ll try to impose a style of play, with lots of one-twos, but play attacking football, all while having a compact defensive block. Taking risks to score as many goals as possible is something that I am ready to do.
“But what matters is getting the most out of my players while playing well. I don’t think there is any system or style that is better than another. Great coaches like Mourinho, Wenger or Guardiola have different philosophies, but they have all won, like Antonio Conte has done at Chelsea.”
Will he succeed at Palace? That’s an impossible question to answer until we see what Parish, Dougie Freedman and the rest of the recruitment team have up their sleeves.
What we know for sure, however, is that Vieira is an exciting, adaptable young coach who is still learning the job. He’s also a fearsome character who takes no prisoners in any aspect of his career.
Prediction: it won’t be boring.