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      Mateta feature interview: Fans, tactics and booming confidence


      On course for his most prolific season at Crystal Palace to date, Jean Philippe Mateta discusses developing a rhythm, a new tactical approach and a special relationship with the Selhurst Park crowd…

      For some footballers, focus is all about silence. Silence the crowd, silence your critics, silence any noise in your head and let your feet do the talking. The quiet types shut themselves off from the outside world in one of the sports greatest ironies; they are at their calmest and most serene in front of thousands of adoring supporters – or sometimes more so in front of thousands of braying opponents.

      A deep breath in the tunnel, and they sink into their own world. It is an admirable trait, but not the only route to success, and certainly not for everyone. For Jean-Philippe Mateta, the opposite is true. He is a man who takes in all around him. Football is not a game played within the confines of four white lines, but a battle taking place in the entirety of the stadium, an arena in which each and every small advantage should be levied in support of the team’s efforts.

      Rather than shut out the crowd, use them. It is most apparent in his goal celebration, the iconic smashing of the corner flag surrounded by the now familiar ‘BOOM’ from the crowd, but it is a constant in his performances. Clapping at the right chants, geeing up the crowd before a set-piece, pumping his fist after a perfectly timed challenge or a well-executed press. After all, is that bond between fans and players not what makes us all fall in love with the sport in the first place?

      “I like to play with the fans in mind, because the fans come for us,” he says, pondering his next corner flag demolition. “I want to play with them. I like to clap my hands and to see them clap their hands to win the game.

      “You can’t quite speak to them [mid-game], but I like to feel something with them. A relationship with the fans. They don’t come to see us just to be serious, and for us to be serious and do the job solemnly. They pay! They put some money down to come, and they are much happier when we do it for them.

      “I like to build a relationship with the fans, and that is why I ask them to say ‘boom’ when I score.” We ask if he has any plans to roll out a new celebration for the future, but the answer is emphatic. “No – I’ve been doing this since I was young!

      “I will always keep it – particularly in Selhurst, because it has started to be very loud now. They make a big noise. When I hear the ‘boom’, it’s always good for me.” We can’t argue with that – but does he have any advice for Palace’s younger players who hope to be unveiling a goal celebration at some time soon?

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      I like to play with the fans in mind, because the fans come for us.

      Jean-Philippe Mateta

      “They have to follow what they are like,” says Mateta. “They have to follow their personality – don’t try to do what someone else does, just be yourself.”

      It’s a theme that runs through much of his game both on and off the pitch: personality. Jean-Philippe Mateta is not afraid to be his own man, and he is not afraid to show himself for who he really is. It is that personality which has bred his increased confidence in London, and seen him nail down a starting spot in attack for much of this season.

      “I can still get better, but goals give me more confidence in the team,” he says. “I feel like I am playing more, and that means more goals are hopefully going to come.

      “For a striker, it’s always good to play. It is hard to play one game and stay on the bench for one game and then play another game. It is very hard. But now I start to have the rhythm, and I feel like that starts to give me confidence. The coaches have given me a responsibility, and now I have to show them I am ready for it.”

      He has added to that responsibility from the penalty spot in recent weeks, scoring from 12 yards against Liverpool and Burnley. Here is the only occasion where he allows himself to shut out the noise – and for good reason.

      “Always when you take a penalty it is never the same,” he explains. “It is different. I get nervous a little bit, but you have to stay focused. I just keep my eyes on the ball and try to be focused, because the defender will come around and say it isn’t a penalty, or tell me I'm going to miss. I don’t say anything back, I just stay focused.”

      Mateta started the season in blistering fashion, scoring a sensational hat-trick against Plymouth Argyle in the League Cup – the first netted by a Palace player since Dwight Gayle eight years earlier. “As a striker, scoring a hat-trick gives you confidence,” he explains. “You always enjoy having that ball in your house. Everybody signs the ball – it is on a shelf close to my TV! Hopefully more are going to come.”

      Since then, both opportunities and challenges: the benefits of competition with another top centre-forward in Odsonne Edouard; the difficulties of injuries to some of Palace’s brightest attacking players around him. With Ebere Eze and Michael Olise out, however, opportunities have been handed to some of the most exciting young players, like teenagers Matheus França and David Ozoh.

      “Competition is always good, especially for a player in the Premier League,” Mateta says. “It’s good when you have somebody to make you push yourself. We also have a strong forward team – but sometimes players have been injured. When everybody is back, there is a lot of competition of course.

      Match action: Plymouth Argyle 2-4 Crystal Palace

      “[Matheus] is not the same player as when he played his first game. The more you play, the more you have a good rhythm. My advice to the young players is just to play like you train. If you train well, you will do the same on matchday.”

      Mateta combined with Jordan Ayew for Palace’s opener at Goodison Park, and while the Ghanaian is a valuable asset on the pitch, he is also a perfect teammate for Mateta off it. A childhood Marseille fan, Ayew’s father Abedi Pele is something of a hero in the Mateta household, having won the European Cup in 1993 and remaining one of the club’s greatest ever players.

      Mateta even followed Ayew’s career from it’s very beginning. “I always speak about Jordan – I remember when he started football with Marseille and he scored some goals. They were a very good team, and when my father followed them they won the Champions League with the father of Jordan.

      “Jordan’s father is really big, like a legend in my family! I always speak about it. I ask Jordan how Marseille was when he was there. I'm really interested in it – and I still watch Marseille games.”

      The appointment of Oliver Glasner as Crystal Palace manager has meant new methods on the training pitch, and an adaptation of club’s playing style. For Mateta, this is an exciting opportunity – if also one requiring hard work. Glasner’s Wolfsburg and Frankfurt sides were consistently some of the most energetic in the league, and Mateta’s two-and-a-half years in the Bundesliga with Mainz meant he was in no doubt what was in store.

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      I always speak about Jordan – I remember when he started football with Marseille and he scored some goals.

      Jean-Philippe Mateta

      “Now we have changed coach, the new coach has a different type of football,” he explains. “It is more about running. He has asked for more intensity in the team and in training. In the game, we want more intensity and more pressure. Everybody has to run.

      “We want more attacking pace, more speed, to be more quick. You have to play forward more quickly, and for this we have to train hard all week. If I can have more goals with this type of way we play, then it is good for me and good for the team.

      “In Mainz it was also a lot of running, but in the Premier League they have everything. There is more tactics, more pace, everyone is more strong. Every game is also completely different. You could play against Burnley or Chelsea or Brentford and it is always not the same.”

      Whatever battle comes next, you can be sure that Mateta will be ready and waiting to enjoy every minute. Consistent selection this season has seen him grow in confidence and resolve, and the goals are beginning to follow.

      Under Oliver Glasner at Wolfsburg, Wout Weghorst turned into prolific centre-forward; at Eintracht Frankfurt, Randal Kolo Muani blossomed into one of the most exciting young strikers on the continent. With Jean-Philippe Mateta, that journey is only just beginning.

      Whether it’s in south London or across the country, there is one thing that is for sure: Jean-Philippe Mateta will never stop trying to give those in attendance their money’s worth. His relationship with the fans is booming, and if he keeps scoring it will only get stronger still.