How are the players who were away on international duty? Have any come back with an injury? And what about the players who were unavailable for West Brom? Will any be back?
Well I think the players who played internationally seem to be ok. There’s only one we haven’t yet seen but we believe he’s fine, and that’s Cheikhou Kouyate. He had a longer journey than the others. I think the only player we’re likely to get back is Tyrick Mitchell, although we’re still assessing James McCarthy and Nathaniel Clyne.
Michy Batshuayi scored for Belgium – a pretty good record now with them – but he’s complained that he’s not trusted the same with Crystal Palace as he is with Belgium. What would you say to that?
Well I think it’s a fairly common criticism from players when they go away and play for their national team, although Michy I think only played 60 minutes over the three games. They’re asked by journalists what’s gone wrong – they praise national team and criticise the club, it’s a fairly common occurrence. But we know what Michy can do, we know that he’s a goalscorer. It was good to see him score his goal, it was a very good goal too. So I’m pleased he’s doing well for the national team. I still believe and hope that he’s going to do well for us as well in the last nine games of the season when he gets his opportunity to play.
Has there been any discussion with Steve Parish over the last three weeks about a new contract for you for next season?
No, because I’m not interested in having that discussion at the moment. I’m interested in working very hard with the players who are here and making certain we finish this season properly. As a result it’s the games ahead of us that interest me much more than next season at the moment. When the time is right we’ll discuss it.
When do you think the time will be right? Do you want to stay for another year?
Well, again, these are things that I’ll keep to myself until such time as I feel it’s the right moment to make any announcement. Every week I get the same question, every week I give the same answer and I’m going to continue doing that until such time when I feel there is an announcement to be made.
Andros Townsend said this week that players are going to have to wait until the end of the season – is that helpful for you as a manager?
Well it doesn’t seem to have be affecting anybody in the training sessions, I’ve got to say I’m full of admiration for the way everyone is continuing to do their job as I believe they should be trying to do their job. I’m convinced that they, like myself, are very keen to do a good job in these last nine games and finish the season as high in the table as we possibly can. As far as I’m concerned these matters will get sorted out in due time, and that time will be decided by the club at the final analysis.
You’re on 37 points with nine games left and looking safe from relegation. Will the team play with a bit less pressure, perhaps a bit more expansive?
I think we can possibly play with a bit less pressure because two or three of the last games have been extremely pressurised – in particular games against Fulham and West Brom – if you’re talking about securing your place in the league they were really high pressure games. In that respect you’re quite right to say that there might be slightly less pressure. I don’t really understand expansive. If expansive means are we going to now start rolling the ball out, trying to make seven or eight passes around our penalty area, we won’t be doing that because that’s not the way we play and we don’t have the type of players that would appreciate us trying to ask them to do that. We’re going to keep on trying to put a team out and prepare it to win the game, making certain that we’ve analysed the opponents correctly and that every one of our players goes out on the field knowing what we expect of him and what we want him to do as a team player to help us come out with a winning result. So we’ll definitely try to do that. And we’ll be aided by the fact that Wilf Zaha and Jeffrey Schlupp – two of our major attacking players – players that have got the ability to do really do things which the opposition don’t expect are now fit to work. I think that will be very useful for us in the last nine games.
Everton on Monday night. They beat you last time out, what are your thoughts on this game?
They’re a good team, they’re playing well, they’ve got a lot of good players, they recruited very well also. It all boils down, I suppose as most games do, to how well we can perform. We actually performed well against them in the home game, I remember it well. We lost to a very controversial penalty which actually ended up changing the handball interpretation – which I’m happy about. But it didn’t do me much good because we didn’t get the point we might have got had we not had to suffer from the handball interpretation that was rife at the time. But we know that any time we go up to Everton you’re going to face a very difficult game. They are a good team, they’re very well managed and coached. Recruitment has been very good, the players they’ve brought in have made them stronger. So all we can do really is make certain we prepare as best we can and make certain that we believe in ourselves. That we have faith that if we play well enough we can get the result we would like there.
How was the international break? Was it training as usual with the players?
Yeah, it was training as usual. Missed a fair number, of course, but it gives you a bit more of an opportunity to work with the players who are left behind, some of whom aren’t necessarily playing every week – so it’s good to have that opportunity. And it’s also a good opportunity to work with some of the younger players in the under-23s that you see play but have not had a chance to work with to any great degree – to incorporate them into the group to get the right numbers to do the training sessions you want to do. I’ve been very happy with both of those situations: the chance to work with a bit more detail with the ones who are left behind and also the chance to work and see what these Under-23s can do when they step up into a somewhat more intensive environment.
There were plenty of goals for Palace players over the international break, is that nice to see?
You’re always pleased when players who go away with an international team score goals. Eze’s was a very important one, but I’m disappointed that didn’t lead to a victory and keep England in the tournament. As for Michy and Christian, they waited patiently for a chance to play albeit against Belarus in a fairly resounding win. But it was nice to see them both getting a chance to play – Michy for 60 minutes and Christian for 30 – and both of them chipping in with a goal which is always good for confidence. So delighted for them as well. As for Eze, I’m going to have to try and cheer him up I think when he gets back because he’s going to be bitterly disappointed to have what looked like being a very, very good result which would qualify them for the quarter-finals snatched away from them with that long-distance strike in the final minutes of the game.
So it’s going to be big cuddles from Roy when he’s back?
Well, it would be nice to, but I don’t think managers of my age cuddling is a great idea any time, and it’s certainly not a particularly good idea at this time in the coronavirus pandemic. I’m pretty certain I would be in the headlines for cuddling a player at a time that I’m supposed to be required to stay away from everybody. But I’m pleased that I’m vaccinated so I feel quite comfortable these days.
Do you think it will be a different Everton team from the one you faced in September?
It will be a different team. I think that Carlo’s working with them and improving them all the time. Almost a year has gone by since that game, and that’s another year’s work with Carlo as a team. He’s also improved the team in that time, brought in players I think that have strengthened the team even more. We know that it’s going to be a very tough game up there, but unfortunately most games in the Premier League are very tough games these days I don’t think I’ve ever taken a team to Everton and thought this is a game that won’t cause us too many problems – this is a game that I won’t be suffering to some extent on the touchline. I don’t think the game on Monday night will give us any respite from that, there will be plenty of suffering I’m sure during the course of the game. Our aim is to make them suffer too, so I’m hoping that the anxiety I feel on the touchline will be matched by Carlo’s.
How much do you find yourself looking at other teams around you and their fixtures? Is it easy to switch off yet?
Oh I don’t think switching off is ever going to be an option, it would be a massive mistake to switch off. We only play 38 games, it’s not as if you’re talking hundreds of games, it’s 38 in a season. I think you’ve got to show the respect for each and every one of those 38 games and go into it with the same intensity, anxiety, focus as you’d have starting the season. It can never be a question of well we’re safe now, we can relax and take it easy. That’s never an option. And certainly we can never do that. Because 37 points is a good total after 29 games and we’re quite proud of that total but it’s still nowhere near enough to make certain that we are safe and we can relax. If we do get to that total where I could say, ‘yeah we’re pretty safe, we don’t have to worry about relegation’, I still wouldn’t be expecting players to relax. I’d still be expecting them to go out and do their very best in the next Premier League game. They should be aware that every Premier League game that they notch on their belt is something worth having.
What would you see as a good position for Crystal Palace this season?
Well, a good position would be number one but that’s not really going to happen, it’s never realistic. A realistic position for us would be somewhere between 14 and 10, I suppose. I’m hoping we’ll achieve that, but there’s still a lot of work to be done if we’re going to achieve that. And a lot depends upon runs. This year, funnily enough, we’ve been further away from the relegation zone than we’ve probably been in the previous seasons, and yet having said that, that can all change on the last games. In those previous seasons, we’ve often had a run of games right at the end that have lifted us from 17 or 16 to 11 or 12. So it can all happen, we’re aware of that. It’s going to be tough because two of our games have been moved so we’re going to have those fixtures again where we have to play three games in a week and that isn’t our best suit. But we’ll have to deal with that. We’ll get as many points as we can, and as long as it’s away from the relegation teams, I’m happy.
There’s been a three-week gap between Palace games – has that given you a chance to reflect on the season so far?
I suppose it would have done if I’d have chosen to do so, but I haven’t chosen to use the time to reflect on the season, I’ve chosen to use the time to continue doing the daily job, which is coming in and working with the players, trying to make certain the training sessions are fit for purpose and suited to everybody and that we are taking steps which we always like to try and take to prepare. So that’s where my focus has been, I haven’t spent it reflecting on the season. I’m not unhappy with 37 points from 29 games. I am hoping that we’ll keep players fit in these final nine games because that was a massive problem for us in Project Restart last season when there was a lot of games to be played.I’m hoping the strong will be strong enough and remain intact enough to deal with those games as best we can, and we’ll keep cracking on to try and get as many points as we can and finish as high up the table as we can.
Connor Wickham was back in action for the Under-23s and scoring goals. Is it good to see him get regular minutes? Is he an option to come into the regular squad?
Well he was in the squad last time we played. You’re testing my memory here but I believe he was in the 20 man squad against West Brom. So it’s not a question of him being in the squad. But of course to get into the team he’s got to really improve his fitness and keeping working hard, he knows that. And he also knows that in the actual centre forward position we do have serious options. There are areas through injury where we find ourselves stretched. But one area we don’t feel stretched is in the forward positions. In that respect Connor’s task is that little bit harder, but it’s good to see him play in those Under-23s games, get those minutes under his belt and even nicer to see him score goals in a win.
Aidy Boothroyd said that the England Under-21 manager’s job was “an utterly impossible job”. Do you have some sympathy for him in that?
Yes, I do. Obviously if you’re the Under-21 manager, you’d like to be in the situation where any player who can represent England that is Under 21, you would like to use. I remember those arguments even going back to the Finland and Switzerland days, it’s nothing new. It’s not a question really of perception, it’s quite strange for the Under-21s. They play their qualifying games pretty much under the radar. No-one actually starts jumping around rejoicing a victory or lamenting a defeat. But then tournaments come round and suddenly it starts to become interesting and it’s not always so easy for the coach. So of course I have sympathy for him. Unfortunately you can’t say jobs are impossible because no job actually is impossible. I think what he’s trying to say is perhaps the expectations are not always as realistic as they should be, but that’s again nothing new. And whenever you take a job as an English national coach at any level from schoolboy right the way through to first team, you have to accept sometimes that the scrutiny and expectations won’t always be as fair and as just as you would like them to be.
Would it be better if the Under-21s were allowed to have their best players? Win a tournament and take a winning mentality into the senior tournament? England haven’t won anything since 1966.
It’s a very difficult question and a big debate during my time as a national team manager. I’m far from convinced that having a winning team at junior level will take through to a winning team at senior level unless all the players continue to come through. Now that isn’t the case. It’s quite often not the case. Because the best players will always jump over the Under-21s. You know, the Fodens of the world, the Sterlings of the world, your Rashfords… During my time I can name five or six players who went straight into the first team squad having hardly played an Under-21 game. So unless you really believe you can map out progress of players and say: at 16 or 17 we get this group together, we’re going to make a winning team, they’re going to go to Under-19, Under-21… I’m not certain you can do that. There’s always going to be a situation where there’s going to be a lot of fluctuation. And then of course the next big question is of course what do we see as Under-21 football? Do we want to win Under-21s tournaments, or do we want to win senior tournaments? You’ll answer both, but if some compromise has got to be made and you think that to win our senior matches and qualify for tournaments that we need some of these Under-21 players to make us better, then I think most people would agree that’s the priority: that’s where they should play. And as a result, you impoverish the Under-21s. Surely, they might be doing their job? Because they gave us the people like Foden, Mason Mount and Grealish – all the ones who’ve come forward and are playing regularly in the first team: Reece James, Jadon Sancho, the list goes on and on; you could say well we’re succeeding with the Under-21s because the work we’re doing with them is preparing them to go into the senior team. And if there’s some co-ordination between the way the two teams play, that’s got to be advantageous. And then you’ve got the argument about developing winning habits. Well I think the players we’re talking about at this level – they’re getting that every week in their club teams. The development of a winning mentality and a winning talent, I think all the teams in the Premier League where these players come from are trying to develop that. So it’s not as if no-one’s working on their desire or thought process when it comes to winning. So maybe there’s got to be a continued debate about what do we really want from the Under-21s. If the answer is we’re fed up of not winning the tournaments we take part in, then I think the FA will have to make a decision and say well in the future to win these tournaments, we have got to give coach at the time the very best players, we can’t keep robbing him of some of the guys that have helped get him to the tournament by putting them in the first team, so he can have them and we can get on without them. But I’m afraid if I was the England national team manager, I would be saying no, I want the best players in my team, and your team is there to provide the best players for us.
Like they would do at Palace with a youngster coming through? You’d want them in the first team rather than just playing in Under-23 tournaments.
Well luckily not many people outside of myself and many Crystal Palace fans know the result of the Under-23s matches so it’s not quite the same scrutiny as when the England team goes into a tournament.
37 points looks pretty safe. When it is secured, will you be able to map out your future?
Well I can map out my future any time, but the point is while I’m in this job here which is an very, very important one and there are many, many games to play, I much prefer to concentrate on using all my energy and focus on that rather than map out what I would want to do, because there’s still plenty of time for that in the future.
Jose Mourinho is approaching his 1000th game as a manager – something you’ve already passed. How difficult is it to remain relevant and good enough at your job to manager for 1000 matches?
His 1000 are far more worthy than mine. A lot of my matches really were played in leagues nowhere as difficult as the Premier League. Really every game he’s had of those 1000 – or he might knock off one or two from the early days with Portuguese teams who weren’t at the top of the league – they have really been at the very, very highest level. So what he’s done to get to 1000 games is quite incredible. I’m lucky to have the longevity, which I’m happy about. I’ve really enjoyed the time I’ve had but I wouldn’t for one minute put the games that I’ve had at that sort of number in relation to the games that he’s had. Because 1000 games at the level that he’s worked at is quite incredible. How can he keep going with it? Well he can keep going as long as he likes. He’s still fit, relatively young, doesn’t seem to have lost any of that energy or those qualities that make him such a very, very coach all those years ago when we saw him running up and down the touchline at Old Trafford after achieving an incredible result. The question I think for all of these managers is going to be: How long are you prepared to swim around the goldfish bowl? How long are you prepared to put up with the pressure, the slings and arrows that come your way? If you’re prepared to do it, and I’m pretty certain that he could be working long past my years. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be around to see it because I don’t know that I’ve got another 25 years left.
Gareth Southgate says that picking a 23-man squad is a rather unique skill – is that something you agree with? How much do you need to stick to your principles and ignore the clamour surrounding the squad?
To answer the first par, you do have lots of times when you don’t feel comfortable because you have to make decisions which you are going to have to relay to people. Sometimes it’s to players who have done a good job for you during a qualification campaign, and that’s never an easy task. I think to some extent blocking out the clamour can be a little bit easier. The fact is principles and how you want the team to play and how you want the squad to be when you go away for five to six weeks in an important tournament: you’re so aware of that and I’m sure Gareth is, that it’s not so much the clamour to include someone that hasn’t really been that much a part of your thinking, it’s more a question of how you’re going to balance the number of players in their positions. And to what extent you are going to be able to take players with you who are going to be very good teammates, very good travellers and be very useful because they will balance parts of the team where maybe you don’t have many to balance it with. That’s a very big decision. I remember being told by a friend of mine who worked with England, Mike Kelly, when I was putting together the first Switzerland squad – and I didn’t follow his advice, which was a big mistake, though I’ve tried to do it since. He said: you’re taking 23 players and you’re Switzerland – if you get four games it’ll be a miracle. Seven games to the final? Forget it. We shouldn’t even be here, really, we’ve broken records and defeated odds to get here. So you get 23 guys, all of whom are desperate to go and will be excited as a four-year-old on Christmas morning. What you’ve got to work out is, you probably know what your team is – who you’re planning to use. Whether it’s 11 or 12, or if in England’s case as many as 15 or 16. For us it was 13 or 14 players, the ones that we’d used and the ones we’d been planning to use in these four games. That leaves an awful lot of guys who are not going to get a game. They have to train every day, they’ve got to go out there and train well because you want the best preparation for the starting XI. But they’ve got to come to terms with the fact that yeah, they’ve got the nod, yes they’ve got the kudos of being selected for the international squad, but they don’t play. And when they don’t play, they get questions from journalists and often don’t answer in a team-friendly way. They answer in a way of ‘I can’t understand how I’m not playing because I’m so good’. So I think balancing things in that respect… Let’s leave the three goalkeepers out of it. 20 outfield players, you’ve got to choose 16, maybe 17 who you really think [can play]. Then the other three, as long as they’re good enough, can be people who are going to be there because you think they’re the right type, they’re going to be useful for the group as a whole, they’re going to bring something to the squad even though they’re not playing. They are rare birds, those one: a player who is prepared to make that degree of self-sacrifice at international level. I tried to work on that sort of basis, but I haven’t always done it as well as I should have done. In Switzerland I had two guys out there that haunt me to this day, that I didn’t take with me. I took two other people on the basis that ‘if this one gets injured, this one is probably the best alternative’. Of course, none of those that I chose played, didn’t kick a ball. But I regret to this day the two that I didn’t take that deserved it a lot more for what they’d done for me during the qualification, and what they would have brought to the squad by their human qualities. One was a guy called Chris Bonvin. The other decision that I was wrong not to make was playing Andy Egli who did travel with us and didn’t play. We were qualified so we had a third game, and instead of putting him in as one of the centre-backs and giving one of the other centre-backs a rest, I continued to leave him on the bench. The other player was Beat Sutter.
That task of picking players for their attitude – is it more difficult with leaving out bigger name players like at England?
I know quite a few of the players in the England squad at the moment, so I could sort of vouch for them and talk about them. But there’s a good 10 now that I don’t know particularly well. Gareth and Steve will know them extremely well so they won’t have the difficulty of making the type of decision I’m talking about, should they decide that that’s the way they want to go. But certainly the choice is much, much bigger with an England team than it would have been, and that’s increased exponentially over the years as well. From 2012 when I was appointed manager to today, I think a lot more players have come on the scene. It makes that decision of Gareth’s that little bit harder. He knows that I wish him well with it, and he’ll do a good job picking the right squad because that’s what he’s been doing so far.
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