From the depths of despair, springs a glimmer of hope.
Ok, it is a dramatic opening line, but catches the attention right? So, here is the thing. After the transfer window closed on Thursday, I sat down and started writing an article regarding our entire pre-season, and I had to step away. It was not making happy reading, or writing, and to be honest, had nothing positive in it. The transfer window has left people with mixed feelings, but if I am honest, it has personally left me with a sour taste in my mouth. Don't get me wrong, I actually am pleased with most of the additions that we have made, but the glaringly obvious absences of a new right back and striker, just can't be ignored. On top of that, we are having to deal with the Zaha mess. I saw people rejoicing when it was announced he was staying, but I could not be one of them. The club and the board are taking flack right now for it, but for me, this summer Wilf and has camp have let us down. That is a detailed article for another day. The thing is, in previous years there has been the buzz because he has signed a new contract and wanted to stay. This time around, he does not want to be here, and is only still with the club because he has no choice. That for me, spoils it. So, Thursday was not a happy day, and thoughts of match day today were not pleasant. Then yesterday, when it was most needed, step forward Luka Milivojevic and positive news!
Going into this summer, as well as the much needed transfers, we all also knew that Luka was into the last year of his contract. Anyone you could speak to, would tell you that getting him a new deal was just as important as getting in fresh blood. When it comes to building a team, it is easy to say that you just build it around your key player, your talisman. However, a key element to a good team, is a great Captain at the heart of it. Over the years, I have seen some fantastic, passionate leaders wear the armband for us. For me, my first Captain was Gareth Southgate, at least, the one that I could truly remember. Before him, there was Geoff Thomas, a man that many still refer to as their Captain today. There have been plenty of others, but more recent years I think have shown how important a Captain can be.
For several years, we were spoiled with having the warrior that is Mile Jedinak as the leader of this team. If I am honest, if I had to choose my greatest ever Palace Captain, it would be him. The man was a leader of men. He wore his heart on his sleeve, he left everything on the field and he would not accept anything less from those around him. He was a player who could lead by example, and take a game by the scruff of the neck to fire the team up. When he was forced out of this football club by Alan Pardew, we lost that leadership, and it showed on the pitch. Scott Dann took the armband, as the obvious choice of successor, but it did not work. Week after week, you could see that he just wasn't a leader. He was not the vocal one on the pitch, he was not stepping in when his teammates needed a firm hand, he was not inspiring. It affected our play, I have no doubt about that, and so it was no surprise when Sam Allardyce came in and put the armband elsewhere. The surprise though, was that he put it on Jason Puncheon. It was, however, a temporary masterstroke. Puncheon was a local lad, one of our own, and he got how things at the club worked. I remember listening to a podcast interview with him, and he took on the Captaincy a bit like how you would hear John Terry did(no, not wife stealing). He didn't just see himself as a leader on the pitch, but off of it, in every aspect possible. The funny thing was, being honest, Jason was probably the weakest player on the pitch in Big Sam's time, and probably wouldn't have even been picked to play by many fans, yet he worked as a Captain, as a symbol.
When Luka arrived, he did so to fill the void of Mile Jedinak on the pitch, having a quality hard man midfielder to protect the backline. It didn't take long, however, for most of us to be calling for him to fill the Jedinak void as Captain as well. Luka stood out instantly, as a no nonsense, hard as nails battler. Not only that, but he had good vision and great ball distribution. He was clearly a leader, a man who could inspire those around him. By making him Captain, it wouldn't be picking the next man to wear the armband, it would simply be putting the armband where it truly belongs. He has led the team ever since, with both pride and passion. He has become one of our key players, one that has simply been irreplaceable.
Of course, we also discovered another fantastic element to our Captain. The man like Serbia can take a mean penalty. He is deadly from the spot, perhaps arguably the best in the league. His goals for us have been just as vital as his tackles, and his leadership. In a team that has desperately needed it, Luka has been THE man. Keeping him here was vital, we all could see it. So when rumours broke a few weeks ago, that he was stalling on a new deal and might not sign one, it understandably started nerves to jangle. This was only made worse, when on Wednesday, comments from a BBC interview with him, implied that he would like to stay, bit was basically unhappy with our transfer policy. It created major concern, that he was unhappy and would be leaving. So, as the window shut, and we were left with big holes in our squad, and an unhappy Zaha supposedly being held prisoner, we were also facing the possibility of having to watch out leader play out the last year of his deal, and leave.
One of the big things this summer has highlighted, is that there appears to be big issues at board level, and all of this mess has become a part of that. I have had to listen to pundits on Friday talking about us being in big trouble, about there being no harmony at the club, and to be honest, it was hard to argue. I mean, we were all readying ourselves to start the season, against free spending Everton with a wealth of attacking options, against our second string defence that picks itself due to no other options. That, sadly, is still the case, and I do worry about today. However, as news broke yesterday that Luka had signed a new four year deal, you could almost hear the collective sound of relief and euphoria from Palace fans all around the world. Just look at his stats, to highlight his importance to us. In his first (half)season, he played 14 games and scored 2 goals. In his second season he played 37 games and scored 10 goals. Last season he played 42 games and scored 12 goals. He has been an almost ever present, and our top scorer two years running. We simply can't afford to lose someone like that, and thankfully, we haven't.
This deal, gives hope. At a time when there are
issues in our camp, for our Captain to come out and dedicate his future to us
for another four years, that is just massive. It was a shot in the arm that we
all needed, 100%. It provided light at the end of what was starting to look
like a very dark and gloomy tunnel. The Zaha circus will continue, and I don't
think it is going to be pleasant. The obvious gaps in our squad are going to be
a factor too, it is impossible for them not to be. However, our Captain is
here, is staying, and he is 100% committed to the cause. That alone, will
provide a much needed spring in my step as I walk up the Holmesdale Road today.
So to all those in the Premier League laughing and writing us off, be careful, because there is still life in us yet. It comes from Serbia, and it will........
I will let you finish that last bit!