Vieira is just the latest ‘Lampard’ appointment…

John Nicholson

Has Patrick Vieira been given the Crystal Palace job solely on his reputation as a player in the Premier League? Of course. Having had the most experienced man in English football in charge in Roy Hodgson, the former New York City and Nice manager wasn’t exactly top of anyone’s must-hire list on the basis of his managerial performance to date.

His performance at Nice saw him lose almost as many matches as he won, emerging with a win ratio of under 40%.

Being a stellar player who won pretty much everything there is to win in the game – and the high profile that this brings when they step into management – still seems irresistible to some club owners.

Any candidate that presented Vieira’s managerial history and numbers in an application would not have got near Crystal Palace. If those were the credentials needed to be considered, there are many better-qualified candidates.

But he’s PV. It’s what a pal of mine now calls ‘a Lampard’. That is, someone who got the job on name alone.

While by no means a universal culture within the Premier League, it is one that has a long history all the same. This is a ‘look who we’ve got’ appointment made to appease those both inside the club and on the terraces who cannot countenance employing ‘someone we’ve never heard of’.

The trouble with this is that people who think like that are often just not curious enough about other leagues in world football and default to thinking that the Premier League is somehow special, so the normal rules don’t apply.

Jordan F365
Crystal Palace Vieira

Thus, if Patrick Vieira had been the same player in France, winning the same number of trophies, but had never played in England, Palace would not have appointed him. The Premier League has been aided and abetted by 29 years of it marketing itself as ‘the best league in the world’. If that’s the Kool-Aid you drink, no wonder such decisions are made.

How else to explain Danny Mills telling talkSPORT: “A lot of the games in La Liga are against inferior opposition. This is not the standard of the Premier League,” when discussing Manchester United signing Raphaël Varane. That is, on so many levels, an extraordinary thing to think is true.

This is part of the ‘he doesn’t know the league’ culture that pervades amongst a certain strand of football. They are never questioned on what they actually mean by this blart. It is also part of the same culture which thinks that football is some mystical arcane artform that can only be deciphered by ex-professionals.

This is how you end up appointing an ex-PL player above someone better qualified. Vieira knows the league, y’see. That, quite incredibly, is the start and the end of it.

I recall hearing a Spurs fan on a phone-in. He embodied this attitude perfectly. When asked who he wanted as the next manager he groaned, blew out air and said “there’s not many out there, is there?”. What? Isn’t there? Are you sure? There are loads of potential managers, some of whom would be brilliant for Spurs, but they fall into the ‘never heard of him’ category. And ‘never heard of him’ often trumps a great CV.

They ended up with Nuno Espírito Santo who, it is not unreasonable to assume, only got the job after everyone else had turned it down because ‘he knows the league’, having managed Wolves. He would not have got the job had he not managed England’s Wolves, but had managed Portugal or Spain’s Wolves. That is more Premier League self-regard. It loves itself so much that only if it has blessed the individual with its greatness can they be considered.

The names the phone-in caller came up with who might be good enough to deign to take the wheel of Daniel Levy’s clown car to nowhere were Graham Potter and Brendan Rodgers and he wasn’t even sure about them. Both British, obviously. He was never going to suggest, say Marco Rose or Florian Kohfeldt. This is the Premier League so we must employ someone I’ve heard off…even if you’ve only heard of British managers.

Some clubs and some of their fans feel they need someone high profile more than someone who is any good or, more fairly, someone who has proven to be any good in the past.

Of course, the other, more positive way to look at this is Palace are giving a relatively new manager a chance. And that’s great. He may do really well. But it’s funny how it’s a high-profile name that hasn’t done very well in his first two jobs that gets a chance, isn’t it? If that was the bar to meet, hundreds could meet that bar. But the light that shines from A Big Name, still blinds many.