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Patrick Vieira: 21/22 reflections and what to expect in 22/23

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Despite notching 48 points, reaching Wembley, being nominated for Premier League Manager of the Season and joining during the club’s largest squad overhaul of the current era, Patrick Vieira has little room for sentiment. He expresses pride and satisfaction in a successful 2021/22 campaign, but with almost every line of praise comes an imperative: next season must be better.

Vieira says the players’ improvement was “positive, but there’s more to come.” He added: “It’s been a really good first season, but the next one will be even more difficult.”

Vieira took on a sizeable challenge when he joined. On August 14th he entered his first competitive Palace game: a 3-0 loss to Chelsea. By the end of the season he’d awarded nine debuts and moulded the team in his style. That culminated in a 1-0 victory over Manchester United: Palace were defensively solid and offensively more clinical, achieving a positive Premier League goal difference for the first time.

“Of course I’m really pleased with the progress we had from the Chelsea to the United game,” Vieira says. “We are a different team, we have an identity and a clear idea about how we want to play the game in and out of possession. That is really important for me as a manager. Having said that, we can always improve.”

The task began the moment Vieira was appointed: with the groundwork laid by the recruitment team under Sporting Director Dougie Freedman’s stewardship, the manager and club had to act fast to ensure the best possible pre-season.

“We quickly identified the profile [of the player we wanted to sign]… There was no wasting time. It was going and trying to bring in players as soon as possible; it was important to have those players early because it allowed me to work with them.”

It was a whirlwind summer. Within 60 days of Vieira’s arrival there were seven incomings, seven outgoings, two new contracts and the arrival of three senior staff – on top of the usual congested pre-season fixtures.

With those decisions came a level of risk, Vieira says, “but as a club we were prepared to take that.”

“I’m really pleased with the players we managed to keep and the players we brought in,” he explains.

“Players like Wilfried Zaha, Macca [James McArthur] and Wardy [Joel Ward] are what I believe this football club is: they are fighters, they are 10/10 competitors. On the field they can do good things and bad things, but what I never question is their competitiveness.”

Off the pitch Vieira also assembled his coaching team, blending existing figures with new arrivals. He says integrating staff mirrored the club’s task with its players, but that the key to getting this composition right was having a plurality of characters and qualities.

There’s another directive: “We want more, and as staff we have to take our game to a different level. I expect them to come with different ideas to share and put on the table because we need to be more demanding of the players. I will be more demanding of my staff and I will be more demanding of myself. We all have to raise the bar.”

Away from his immediate coaching team, the manager has also been aided by scouting, analysis, medical and technical departments, who he says “have been really supportive.”

“They allowed me and the rest of the guys who arrived at the football club to feel comfortable, get straight to work and really focus on football. I think it’s been a good season because we had the right support to help us focus on work. There is a positive, supportive vibe around the staff and the workplace here.”

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I will be more demanding of my staff and I will be more demanding of myself. We all have to raise the bar.

Patrick Vieira

Supporters will have noticed the squad’s impressive fitness rate in 21/22. While injuries are caused by a number of factors – misfortune being chief among them – Vieira takes a moment to share particular praise for the staff who kept the medical room quiet.

He explains their approach: “Communication between the technical and medical department regarding what training looks like, how we plan training and what feedback we give each other allowed us to get the best from the players.

“In our meeting every morning we talked about the players and that allowed us to have them available for training and games. We listened to the medical team, they listened to us and there is really good communication in place. This is important to maintain.”

On every topic the crux of Vieira’s message is this: 21/22 ended with a solid foundation that must be sustained, but Palace have to improve in 22/23. Fans will have heard the manager discuss working on particular details; his focus hasn’t changed.

“It’s about not accepting any excuses,” he says, explaining how his approach looks in practice. “There is a lot this group of players can still achieve. The year we spent together, the way we worked together and the demand I’ve been putting on their shoulders will be better in the second year and years after that.

“We need to be more demanding of ourselves. We need to have this discipline. Put the team before yourself and always have this in mind. The danger of a good season is players thinking it’s about them; no, it’s all about the team.

“When we want to start training at 11 o’clock, we want to start training at 11 o’clock, not five past. When there is a meeting at 9:30, I want everybody there at 9:30, not 9:40. When you start to lose that you start to lose discipline, and discipline off the field reflects in performances on the field.

“Any successes last season came with discipline, by respecting the team and because of the players’ work ethic and sacrifices throughout. Their professionalism was really good, and I will focus even more on retaining this next year because it will give us the chance to compete and keep competing. We shouldn’t lose those ingredients – we should keep them and take them to a different level.”

On the pitch that means: “In possession we can improve: the number of goals we score, playing forward a bit quicker, finding better positions to create chances and score goals, finding and making better decisions between the lines and across the pitch. We can still improve in possession.

“We can also improve our defensive organisation. I believe we can stop more crosses and we have to defend better at set pieces, we can have better organisation with the space between the lines when defending and we can be more coordinated when putting pressure on the ball.”

If there is ever a time to reflect on a positive campaign, it’s the off-season. But it appears Vieira took that chance swiftly and is ready to move on. What lies ahead is a summer of improvement.

He stresses that he, Freedman and Chairman Steve Parish are in regular contact and that they will “always try to improve the squad while keeping the foundation we have.” It’s an approach in keeping with everything else.

Finally, we press Vieira to drop his guard a notch, and allow a moment’s indulgence. The response is a lesson in consistency:

“I loved the season. I loved it on and off the field. The satisfaction of course is seeing the evolution of the team and seeing the team performing with a clear idea about what we’re trying to achieve.

“It’s been a really good first season but the next one will be even more difficult. This is what I want us to focus on.

“I will not talk about finishing here or there, there’s no position in my head about where we want to finish. What I want again is for us to compete with our values every single day. We did it quite well last season. We won and we lost, but we always competed. I think now we must take that to a different level.”