Euro 2016: The Palace Perspective

Euro 2016: The Palace Perspective
Jun 8, 2016

Crystal Palace

It’s not often that the outcome of an international tournament is decided by the actions of a Crystal Palace player – OK, it’s never actually – but that in a way, makes you as a fan, feel that sense of pride when a man that calls SE25 his home steps onto the pitch to represent their country. There are not admittedly, many instances where this has been the case, but I couldn’t be the only Palace supporter that enjoyed captain Mile Jedinak stroking home a penalty at the 2014 World Cup, a tournament where England didn’t do much to provide much enjoyment, or perhaps even more so, cheered on Australia – not something that you get a chance to do in sport very often – when they won the 2015 Asian Cup, in order to see the Palace skipper lift the trophy.

This summer at Euro 2016, England feel in a much more positive place – no really – than in Brazil two years ago, and with a young and vibrant team. Looking at the squad, with the youngest average age of all the teams, and there seems to be something of a quiet confidence that they could really do something this time around. From a Palace perspective, it’s a shame that Scott Dann’s form in the second half of the season didn’t quite match up with his excellent record pre-Christmas, and that even with England’s dearth of talent at centre back he wasn’t considered for the short trip across the channel. Similarly, Wilfried Zaha perhaps deserved at least a look at a friendly squad in the build-up, given his generally good form in 2016. Is he one of the best 23 English players out there? Maybe not, but on performances, he’s been better than Raheem Sterling the past several months.

There is though going to be a somewhat heavy Palace presence in Group B, given that three members of the Welsh squad earn their living in South London. The participation of Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland this summer means a far wider representation of somewhat more unfashionable British clubs at an international tournament, and means that fans of Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Notts County, MK Dons and Wigan all have their own reasons to get invested.

In particular Joe Ledley’s place in the Wales squad is an unexpected highlight, given the remarkable recovery that he has made from a fractured leg, sustained against dirty hatchet man Charlie Adam in the penultimate Premier League game of the season. While it is unlikely he will start in Wales’ first game, the simple fact that he is in the squad and poised to play a significant role – both on the pitch and perhaps more importantly in the dressing room – is something to be celebrated.

Rather less celebrated by most on the Selhurst terraces this season has been Wayne Hennessey, who it’s fair to say, has had a mixed season at best, and that’s being kind. In the first season where he managed to wrestle the No. 1 shirt away from club legend Julian Speroni, and fought off the ‘challenge’ of Alex McCarthy, this should have been his chance to shine, and yet, he was far from convincing in a number of Palace’s games. Indeed, far from convincing is perhaps putting it mildly, given that you could argue that a number of goals the team conceded were directly due to individual errors on his part, with his footwork regularly a talking point and a criticism. I believe there is a good goalkeeper in there, and Hennessey comes into the tournament having played decently in the last couple of months of the season. It is also clear that for Wales, his level of performance has been consistently higher. What price a man of the match show against England?

Jonny Williams is something of a wildcard, given that over the past two years he has seen more minutes with his country than he has with his club and experienced loan spells at Ipswich, Nottingham Forest and MK Dons. The man fans refer to as ‘Joniesta’ is a much loved figure at the club, who has risen form the academy to first team and who, initially it appeared, would bring dynamism and creativity to the first team. A combination of injuries and a lack of trust from a succession of managers have stalled his progress significantly, but perhaps this summer could be the opportunity to kick-start his Palace career.

It is clear though, that in terms of Palace representation at Euro 2016, the main focus will be on Yohan Cabaye and the exploits of the hosts and favourites, France. One of the primary reasons behind Cabaye’s move to Croydon – in addition to the scenery of course – was regular first team football, and ensuring that he was booked a seat at the French table. On that basis, mission accomplished. And while he’s likely to begin the tournament from the bench, must be happy that the decision to gamble Champions League football for a reunion with Alan Pardew paid off. If only it could have been capped off by an FA Cup winner’s medal.

It was a largely impressive first season for Cabaye, one in which he added a touch of class to Palace’s midfield proceedings. While initially imagined to be a creative, attacking No. 10, to play in behind the striker, he instead formed an effective partnership with James McArthur, looking to get on the ball from a deeper position. His interceptions and bite in the tackle were a real bonus, and while he struggled a little following McArthur’s injury, the Frenchman was still one of the team’s most consistent players over the season. It’s also nice to think, that there is clearly more to come and a higher gear he can reach.

So while England will be the focus for many this summer, the presence of other players from your club, representing their own national teams, gives that little extra spice to some of the otherwise duller looking group games. So with that, I’m off to catch Jamaica/Mexico on Friday to enjoy Adrian Mariappa in action.

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