Is Wilf going to be available for you for this one?
Yep. I think so, yeah. He’s trained well this week so there’s no reason why I can’t consider him for a place in the team.
What does that mean to you? He’s been out for over a month now.
He’s missed a lot of games for us in that period of time, but he’s still come back quicker than perhaps the medical department thought was going to be possible because of his powers of recovery, so we’re really pleased to have him back. The same of course applies to Jeff Schlupp. It’s good to see him back as well, so that’s two of the important players that we think we’ve been missing in the last five or six games back with us again.
What’s the news on others returning?
Yeah, the ones that are out are still out. Nathaniel Clyne we thought might recover in time for this game but he hasn’t recovered in time, unfortunately. We picked up an injury with James McCarthy which is a major blow for us because he’s been out for such a long time, missed so many games this year. Now he’s been fit for a few weeks, got back into the team and it was a great pity to have to take him off the other night with a groin injury. That will be assessed and looked after during the next few weeks. James McArthur is still nursing his calf injury that he has. The same applies to Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins, unfortunately they are no closer to returning either.
With Nathaniel Clyne, what’s your feeling on how long he might be out?
Well the initial prognosis was actually pretty positive, it was a very minor strain and it wouldn’t take very long at all. It’s been more than two weeks now. The problem is that the scan when he had it didn’t show major problems, but of course he still feels discomfort. So I believe he’ll have a second scan just to check that nothing was missed and if it was missed we can be assured that there is no damage. I think we’ll see him back fairly quickly.
Unbeaten in your last three with back-to-back clean sheets, is there a satisfaction in the way you’re playing? Particularly given that you’ve had key players missing.
Yeah. I think I’m very proud of what the players have achieved. There have been three difficult games, it’s not always a question of the table positions of the team at the point in time, it’s also to do with how well they are playing. We knew that Brighton, who were in good form and Fulham who were in good form were going to be difficult games. Taking four points from them in two games and following it up with a draw against Man United – a draw which I think we fully deserved – I have to be very satisfied, especially as you rightly say that we haven’t had our full contingent to choose from. But it’s been a remarkable effort I think from the players who have been playing. The team hasn’t changed much in the last five or six games when we had these injuries to contend with, and I think the guys that have gone out there to take 11 points from seven games, is a really, really good return and it speaks volumes for their determination, their gutsy performances and their awareness of what needs to be done sometimes to make certain that you come out on the right end of a result.
Patrick van Aanholt suffered racist abuse on social media after the game on Wednesday – how has he dealt with it?
With great maturity. I spoke to him yesterday of course when the news broke. He dealt with it with great maturity. He understands that this is part of the world we live in. We all abhor it, we all condemn it, and I think that more and more is being done to try and eradicate it – or at least eradicate it to the best possible level you can get to. I fully back the initiatives that are going on and now being brought going to government levels. And it’s good to know that people like Patrick van Aanholt are sensible enough and care enough about the problem to actually make certain it is brought very quickly to the attention of the authorities, because that’s all that can be done, unfortunately, the players who are getting this abuse. We’d love it to stop. We haven’t been able to sort of completely stamp it out. We constantly condemn it but it’s still there. So all that they can do perhaps is when it happens, make certain the authorities know. Because the next step has got to be trying to get in touch with these people doing it and punish them accordingly.
What’s your take on the international break and quarantine rules – some Premier League managers say they’d rather not release players. It could affect Jordan Ayew and Jeff Schlupp with Ghana playing in South Africa.
Well I don’t think we have much choice, I don’t think the government are going to allow people to travel to South Africa, so I don’t quite understand if South Africa is on the banned list how the government can allow people travelling there or coming in from there, how we can happily allow our players to go. I think that’s been taken out of our hands to be honest. As far as the other matters is concerned, I do understand my colleagues and their concern over players going away to play for their national team when there’s quarantine involved. I can only hope that the Premier League will be able to ensure us that when our players return to a bubble they’ve left for a bubble that they’ve experienced with their national team, that they’re not going to be punished in any way by not being allowed to train and play because I think that would be very, very harsh. No manager wants to stop his players playing international football – me least of anybody because I probably have more international matches than any of my colleagues. But the fact is you want your players to go and play for their national team, do well, come back and continue to do well for you. You don’t want to wave them goodbye, wish them luck for their national teams knowing full well that when they return you’re not going to see them for 10 days. So I think that’s where the dilemma lies. Certainly as far as the red list countries are concerned, I don’t think that there’s anything to discuss really on that matter and it would be my suggestion that teams like Ghana and any other teams that have got games that would involve them playing in red-list countries, that if they’re that interested in English [based] players to try and move the games to somewhere where the players can travel to.
IFAB, football’s law makers, have met today to clarify handball laws. Accidental handballs that lead to goals will no longer be an offence – is it good to get that clarification?
You’re speaking to the wrong man, really, aren’t you? I mean my views I’ve made. Certainly I’m still smarting about the ridiculous handball decision that cost us points against Everton at the start of the season. I suppose it’s nice to know people that at least one minor element of accidental handball will now be sanctioned and people won’t be punished for it. Maybe I’ve still got to wait a long time before accidental handball once again becomes accidental handball and penalties are given for people who deliberately handball it to stop goals being scored are not just unfortunate to be in the way when the ball is struck at them.
There have been some inconsistencies…
I think the inconsistencies were not there for many, many years, I’ve got to say. My childhood growing up, my tendency to play the game, certainly my many early years of coaching there wasn’t a great deal of inconsistency then, to be perfectly honest. Inconsistencies are really something I’ve had to learn to live with for the last three, four years maximum – no more, because at England we had a couple of ridiculous penalties against us for handball decisions when balls were struck at people, so probably more than three or four years, I lose track of time. I’m happy to say that in the bulk of my career it was never a real problem because to get a handball decision against you, you had to actually handball it and not just be in the way when it’s struck.
What sort of challenge are you expecting against Spurs?
A big one, I suppose, is the very simple answer. They have such a lot of very good players throughout the team, but in particular the firepower they have. The enormous threat they pose with their attacking options – the front four or five, however you like to call it really, they are among the best players in their positions in the country. We expect it to be a remarkably difficult challenge, especially seeing as Tottenham last night righted to some extent their form that they obviously weren’t happy with and are looking to get into the top four, which becomes closer, obviously, with the result that they got last night and the results of the other teams.
Despite that, with Wilf returning and a strong discipline in defence, is this one where you sense it might be your weekend?
Well I think you always like to think this will be your weekend, I think that’s what keeps us going in football. The thought that this is going to be our weekend even when sometimes it turns out not to be. I certainly will go to bed on Saturday night thinking this can be our weekend against Tottenham, but I’ll have to wait and see if we can reproduce some of the work we’ve been doing, some of the very, very hard work – a lot of hard work the players have been putting in to make certain we keep the shape that we think we need to keep teams like Tottenham away from our goal and away from getting clear-cut chances. And then of course hoping we can create some chances of our own which will enable us to get the result we need. Because I think in games like Tottenham away, you are pretty much aware that to get a result you’ll probably need to score goals because they’ve got so many goals in them.
A big boost to have Wilf back – a lot of focus pre-game will be on whether he’s in the starting XI, but also if he starts whether he takes a knee. Obviously Patrick said “this is why we take the knee” – is it an individual opinion rather than perhaps something that everyone should be doing?
I think the idea… Two things. I think, first of all, to suggest that Wilf saying what he said and expressing himself in the way he expressed himself – making it clear that as far as he’s concerned, he thinks that the taking the knee isn’t strong enough, he wants to make an even stronger protest standing up in a way that hopefully will put an end to this type of racial abuse – I think we have to respect that, of course, first hand, because it’s an individual, it’s his conscience. Certainly it’s got nothing to do with him not wishing to respect what taking the knee means. But also, Wilf will respect what the rest of the team wants to do, so if the rest of the team want to continue keep taking the knee, he will happily respect that as well. The point I think he was making is: for the authorities, we’ve been taking the knee a long time – is there something else we can do because I feel so strongly about it and am concerned that taking the knee isn’t doing enough to bring about the change I would like to bring about. It’s a personal opinion that he has, we respect him 100%. For me, I would be very disappointed if people started trying to suggest that him not taking the knee means that he doesn’t have the same feelings about it as everybody else. Quite the opposite, really: I think I would suggest that his feelings are so strong that he wants to bring about even further change to make certain that we don’t suffer this abuse that has struck us recently, once again, as you rightly say, with Patrick van Aanholt being abused after the game against Manchester United.
You mentioned Nathaniel Clyne is out, but is Tyrick Mitchell back?
No Tyrick too, I’m afraid. Suffering from a muscle injury. I think now for a lot of the players, the ones we’ve got now we are hoping we keep fit, but the ones that are not fit at the moment, I don’t think we are going to see any of them until after the international break is over. So we have two more games to negotiate with the players we have and I’m sincerely hoping that after the international break, as long as we don’t get injuries during the break with players going with their international team, some of the ones who are currently injured will be back and ready to go again. It would be nice to go into the last portion of the season with that competition for places which we’ve had on paper this season but actually rarely had in reality.
After the United game you mentioned a lot of the players have been with you since the start of your time at Palace. Do you feel they still have years together or will quite a lot of action will be needed in the transfer market in the summer?
Well I think that just depends on how many of the players are offered new contracts. And that’s something which will be decided by Steve Parish, the American owners and Doug Freedman who as the technical director will give advice on that matter as well. If a lot of these players – I think there’s 11 or possibly even 12 who don’t have a contract at the end of the season – if none of those are going to get a contract, then of course an awful lot of work is going to be needed in the transfer market to replace them because we need 25 players to send the squad to the Premier League. To answer the question, ‘do these players still have years left in them?’ I would say yes, I think they do. I think what they’ve done for the club over the last four years is quite incredible. I think as many as 14 or 15 of our current 25 were either here when I came, or even more the year after I came. You go back three years, we’ve certainly got between 15 and 18 of the current 25 in the squad who were at the club. That’s a fantastic achievement I think for the players to give as much to the club as they have done in these years and to keep our heads above water for those three years as well because that’s never an easy task. I can’t answer what will happen to those players or what route the club would like to take ie keeping them on and continuing in the same vein or letting them all go and starting with a clean slate. If you want an answer to the club’s policy in that regard, then of course you’ve got to speak to the people who are the policy makers and of course I’m an employee, not a policy maker.
If the club decides to let some of the players go, would you like to be involved in the recruiting of new players?
Well that would depend on whether I’m going to be here to take the team, and at the moment that’s another decision which has not been taken. You know again, it’s a question I can’t answer until such a time that I know what my plans are going to be and what my future is going to be with regard to next season. But the obvious answer to the question is that if I’m going to be involved with the team next season, then I of course I would need to be involved in the recruitment.
With the quality of Spurs’ attacking line at the moment, would you take a draw now?
Well, difficult questions, those one. It’s the type of question you get where whatever you answer is wrong. You know, what I think privately, I wouldn’t be prepared to say publicly on that matter. And whatever answer I give is wrong in some way. If I say: ‘No, no, I don’t want a draw, we’re much better than Tottenham and we’re going to blast them off the field’, then people will say that’s ridiculous because Tottenham are a very good team. You’ve got no right to do that. If I say to you: ‘Yeah, a draw would be a good result’, you’d say we’ve got no ambition. So basically speaking, I hand that one to you. You know, you win hands down on that one because whatever I answer, you’ve won.
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