Patrick Vieira said it’s too early to start talking about Cheikhou Kouyate and other players’ expiring contracts but insisted the midfielder knows exactly how highly he thinks of him.
Kouyate is one of several first-team players whose current deal at Selhurst Park runs out this summer and the recently-crowned Africa Cup of Nations winner is said to be in negotiations with the club currently over a new deal.
The midfielder was subject to reported transfer interest from the Middle East in January but stayed in south London, where he has been a key player under Vieira.
The 32-year-old has played 20 Premier League games for the Eagles this season and was sorely missed for the month he was away at AFCON with Senegal.
“We are in a situation where it is too early to talk about what will happen with Cheikhou or some of the players,” said Vieira on Monday.
“I have a really good group to work with and he is part of that group. I want to go through those difficult moments – the number of games we are playing – I don’t want any distraction.
“He knows all the good I think of him but our main focus is to try to go as far in the FA Cup and get those wins we need in the Premier League, then we will talk about contracts, but at the moment it is not the right time.”
One of Kouayate’s key attributes for Vieira this season has been his physicality, with Palace a relatively smaller side in stature compared to many of their opponents.
That has seen them struggle at times, although with Kouyate on the pitch the problem is exposed less often. It’s no surprise that the midfielder has started each of the six Premier League games that the Eagles have won this season.
“He gives you the balance,” added Vieira. “He wins so many balls, can stop the counter-attack, brings physicality. He’s the one to win the ball and his first pass is always good.
“He has the physical presence we want in the Premier League – the competitiveness and physicality – and his experience is what we need.”
Kouyate is reportedly in talks over a new deal that will keep him at Selhurst Park until at least 2023 but potentially longer.
The details of that will fall down to Palace’s sporting director Dougie Freedman and chairman/owner Steve Parish, though Vieira still has some input in those conversations.
“There is a process in place where we talk with Dougie and the chairman about how we see the players,” the Frenchman told football.london last week.
“But the contracts are Dougie and the chairman’s responsibility. I want to focus on what is going on on the field – that is what is important to me.
“But, at the same time, the conversation with the chairman and Dougie is there and it’s important for them to understand how I feel and how I see the player.”