Patrick Vieira wants Crystal Palace fans to trust the process – but what is it?
Patrick Vieira carries an aura. It has morphed from intimidation to the type of enchantment that might be expected of a highly-decorated, instinctive winner. And it means his words carry weight. “The fans know where we are and who we are as a football club, and what we want to achieve,” he said after Crystal Palace’s drab Saturday showing.
“There is a process going into a place. You have to look at the number of new players in the squad, how young they are, how many of them have been playing in the Premier League, and we know how important that experience is.”
Vieira’s message was delivered with both conviction and a smile, so much so that a collective agreement among those in his press conference that Palace were woeful was suddenly doubted. But Vieira's job is to conjure that illusion. He may even believe his own words. Where, though, is the evidence that Palace supporters should ‘Trust the process’?
In nine seasons since promotion, Palace’s best finish is 10th. They have not dipped below 15th. Respectably consistent without inducing vertigo nor stomach-churning. Yet.
And Vieira’s appointment was meant to signal progression. An FA Cup semi-final last season represented a start. But 72 games into his tenure, a victory rate (30.56 per cent) below that of predecessor Roy Hodgson (33.33 per cent) points at stagnation.
Just one of Vieira’s wins have come in the last 14 matches. Defensively Palace have been sound enough, with Saturday’s loss only their second in seven. But their goal scoring touch has been lost without an AirTag. They have netted just 21 in league games, failing to register a shot on target in four of those. In Birmingham, they had just five touches in Aston Villa’s penalty area.
Which makes Odsonne Edouard’s continued bench warming all the more baffling. Edouard’s longest string of starts this season was October 2022’s half-dozen matches. It yielded three goals and an assist. Yet at Villa Park Vieira turned first to Jean-Philippe Mateta, a striker whose barren streak now covers 22 appearances and almost 950 minutes.
When confidence is low, a fast-start can bring much needed energy. They almost got it when after five minutes Wilfried Zaha dropped his shoulder and finished. But a protracted Var check ruled it out for offside, leaving Palace without a first-half goal in 2023. Zaha was the likeliest protagonist throughout the match but ‘give it to Wilf’ is not a tactic, nor will it be possible if Zaha does not extend his expiring contract.
And what of Vieira’s proclamations of youthful inexperience? “It’s important that they are exposed so they can learn,” he said. “If we are all on the same page, those players will be top players in the future.”
Yes, six of his starters were under the age of 25. However, the sextet are hardly teenagers totting up their minutes on two hands: five of them topped 100 first-team outings. Eberechi Eze has 212 and needs to find consistency. He, Tyrick Mitchell, Michael Olise, Marc Guehi, Cheick Doucoure and Albert Sambi Lokonga average 52.8 Premier League appearances each. That figure rises to 74.5 including the latter pair’s top-flight experience outside England.
There is both an abundance of talent and also enough miles in the legs to expect better. Each of the six can and will develop further, and, naturally, Vieira will take the half-full approach. The issue is the current mismatch between output and input.
Vieira claimed he did not hear travelling supporters’ jeers. Selective sensory experience is certainly something he doubtless picked up from Arsene Wenger. Without results though, he will not be afforded the same luxury as his former manager: time.