BY ANDREW MCSTEEN
Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira has handed the team captaincy to no fewer than five different players in their 32 League Cup, FA Cup or Premier League games.
Club captain Luka Milivojevic along with Joel Ward, James McArthur, Wilfried Zaha and Marc Guehi have all started with the armband, Ward out in front so far having led the Eagles out 11 times, followed by Milivojevic (9) and McArthur (8).
In their impressive 2-0 victory away at Wolverhampton Wanderers last time out in the Premier League, Eagles fans would have noticed starting captain – and England U21 captain – Marc Guehi, without any thought, hand his armband to Tyrick Mitchell who promptly passed it on to Milivojevic after the Serbian came on as a 69th-minute sub.
“This was something natural, respect,” explained Vieira to the South London Press about the armband handover at Molineux.
And the Frenchman knows a thing or two about captaincy, taking the armband at his first senior club, Cannes, at 18, before joining Arsenal soon after where took over the captain’s role from Tony Adams and went on to lift the Premier League trophy and FA Cup. He also wore the armband for France.
“It’s still the same,” said Vieira about if the captain’s role had evolved since he finished playing. “The role of the captain is as important today as it has always been. You’re choosing your captain based on the leadership, the personality, how other players around him see him, his experience.”
All three of the Eagles’ FA Cup games this season have had a different captain start, with Ward (vs Millwall), Guehi (vs Hartlepool) and Milivojevic (vs Stoke) all taking the role – and Palace fans will be hoping to see a Palace captain’s arm lift the famous old trophy at Wembley on May 14.
It could be lifted by Milivojevic, although with the Serbian missing games this season through injury or tactical decisions, Vieira and his assistant Osian Roberts have had to decide on who should take that on-field leadership role.
“We always make a decision about who will be the one who can represent the team and the football club,” explained Vieira. “Of course, Luka is our club captain but when he wasn’t there, Macca was the captain. Macca was then injured, so Wardy was then captain and when Wardy is not there, it’s Marc.
“Being a captain comes with responsibility, on and off the field, and this is how I like to choose to choose the captain.”
In his very first game in charge of the Eagles, in a pre-season friendly against Walsall, Vieira selected McArthur to assume the responsibility, before handing the role for the remainder of the warm-up campaign to Milivojevic, Ward, Zaha, James Tomkins and Cheikhou Kouyate among others.
Vieira stuck with McArthur for the Premier League opener against Chelsea, but with four different captains in their last five Premier League matches and so many leaders in the squad, how does he and Roberts manage the half-time assessment in the changing room – do they use some of those leaders?
“At the break we try to keep it together, it’s about having a team performance,” said Vieira. “It’s about looking at what we can improve in possession or out of possession and at half-time we just try to resolve those issues.
“Two, three minutes before starting the second half we go around and individually talk to players and be more specific, but it’s about [being] as a team.”