Brash, bizarre, but in its own way brilliant. Alan Pardew dancing on the Wembley touchline whilst his players and staff run amok around him will forever be immortalised in FA Cup history. But not even Icarus would fly close enough to the sun so as to produce such stiff dance moves with 12 minutes of a cup final still to play.
Sport is often a cautionary tale, and it felt a fitting consequence of Pardew’s overconfidence that Manchester United would eventually come out on top.
Just as it did with Newcastle, Pardew’s cult of personality would ultimately suffocate Palace to the point of near relegation.
There was little stability on or off the pitch, and just seven months on from the hazy hedonism of the FA Cup final, Palace had ended the year as the worst-performing club in the English pyramid. The 92nd best side in England, Pardew was sacked, and Palace had to rebuild.
The Eagles return to Wembley six years on under the stewardship of Patrick Vieira. A man whose reputation proceeds him. There is no expectation for him to be braggadocious, everyone knows what he’s capable of.
There may be no dancing this time around, but there will be direction and due diligence. So, whether Chelsea beat them in the FA Cup semi-final or not is immaterial, for this has been a season of immense progress for Palace.
Vieira’s appointment last summer raised eyebrows. The Frenchman had most recently enjoyed modest success with Nice. And given where Christoph Galtier has now taken them, what Vieira achieved in the South of France was deemed unspectacular.
The former Arsenal man landed on English shores with a fearsome reputation, though, and he used this to his advantage, acquiring the likes of Marc Guehi and Connor Gallagher (on loan) from Chelsea.
It was a bold transfer strategy, Guehi’s £18 million fee made him the third most expensive signing in Palace’s history, but it has paid dividends. With both Guehi and Gallagher earning senior England call-ups throughout the season.
Vieira has not relied solely on the club’s finances either, with academy product Tyrick Mitchell also earning a call up to the England set-up. Mitchell has played the most minutes of any player in the squad and most recently gained attention for his all-action display against Manchester City.
At 22 years old, Vieira has placed a lot of trust in Mitchell and has yet to be let down – no defender has made more tackles or won possession more times than Mitchell in the Premier League this season.
London-born Mitchell is the poster boy for Palace at the moment. A club where young players from across the capital can play regular, free-flowing, forward-thinking football.
It’s a brand and an ethos that Palace have cultivated for several years through shrewd dealings with fellow London clubs.
Tyrick Mitchell has made more tackles (90) and won possession more times (204) than any other defender in the Premier League this season, while only two defenders have blocked more crosses (16).
Loves the art of defending. 🎨 pic.twitter.com/oMmFDfPzKQ
— Squawka (@Squawka) March 21, 2022
The arrivals of Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise have been supplemented with homegrown talents like Mitchell. And now with Vieira at the helm, they have a manager willing to play into their youthful vigour.
Palace play on the front foot, irrespective of the opposition. Against City, for example, Gallagher was instructed to “use his energy and positivity” to close down Aymeric Laporte.
Best true tackle success rate in the Premier League this season (30+ tackles attempted):
◉ Marc Guéhi (89%)
◉ Tyrick Mitchell (78%)
The Eagles have landed in the England squad.
— Squawka (@Squawka) March 21, 2022
The effect of this was to disrupt City’s rhythm in the build-up. Vieira deployed this tact both home and away against City, preventing them from scoring both times. Whilst also producing a famous victory at the Etihad, courtesy of Gallagher’s rifled finish.
As is the case with any club of Palace’s standing, they face a battle to keep hold of their prized assets. But just as they do on the pitch, they fight fire with fire and whilst Olise is attracting interest from across Europe, Palace is already in the market for his potential replacement, Brennan Johnson.
There’s a confidence and calmness to everything Palace do both on and off the pitch right now, which makes them less susceptible to the impact of losing a talent like Olise. A contingency plan that was fostered by Roy Hodgson and has been progressed by Vieira.
Palace are a young side, and there are still lessons for this team to learn. But unlike his predecessors, Vieira has laid the foundations for success, not only in the short-term but also in the long term. Gone are the days of Pardew’s organised chaos.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @tabuteauS
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Sebastian Frej / MB Media / Getty Images