It’s time to move on, but thank you, Julian Speroni

By - Wednesday 14th May, 2014

Tom Lickley suggests it may be time for Crystal Palace fans to let go of the club legend. Read Matt Woosnam’s riposte here

Do The Conga…
Photo by Tom Brogan. Used under Creative Commons license.

Travel back in time, if you will, to a sunny Saturday afternoon in August 2004. Having surged towards the playoffs and clinched promotion in stunning fashion the previous season, Crystal Palace fans had settled into their seats for the first home game of the 2004/05 Premier League campaign. Shortly, they were back on their feet, having taken an early 1-0 lead over Everton. What happened next was, well, pretty farcical: New signing Julian Speroni tried to dribble past Kevin Campbell, instead giving away the ball and bringing the target man down. Thomas Gravesen smashed home the resulting penalty on the way to victory. Nearly ten years on, all Palace fans and Julian Speroni can look back on this incident and laugh. It’s much easier to find humour in mistakes when you’ve just finished comfortably mid-table in the same division, the threat of relegation a distant memory.

In between then and now however, the Eagles have been on a swaying rollercoaster, which has at times threatened to break loose and crash; a last day relegation that memorable season followed by, in no particular order: three play off attempts (one a success); a couple of utterly dull seasons; a plunge into administration to the brink of collapse, consequently resulting in two relegation scraps; and eventual redemption, promotion and stability. Not to mention eight different permanent managers. Such is life.

Julian Speroni has seen it all, and how. Dropped soon after that mistake against Everton, the Argentine, thousands of miles away from his homeland, slowly and steadily rebuilt his reputation, breaking back into the first team, and going from strength to strength; three player-of-the-year trophies in a row ensued, followed by a fourth at the end of the season just passed, and he has eventually risen to be respected as one of the finest goalkeepers in Crystal Palace’s history. Not to mention, of course, opening his own local restaurant.

The Argentine has silenced all critics, and is quite possibly at the very pinnacle of his Eagles career

But more than this; Julian Speroni is a good person, in a cynical footballing world sadly defined by the antics of the likes of John Terry and Luis Suarez – the latter, after breaking down in tears at Selhurst Park following the Eagles’ stunning comeback against Liverpool last week, was comforted first not by Steven Gerrard, nor his manager, but the Palace keeper. Speroni proves that being a great player and a great person are not mutually exclusive.

But… it’s time to let go. Speroni is thirty-five this week; not old in goalkeeping parlance, but for a player who relies on razor-sharp instincts and expeditious shot-stopping skills, rather than Brobdingnagian height or a militaristic command of his penalty box, questions were raised in the first half of this season over whether Speroni could confidently assume the task of being a Premier League goalkeeper. Those aforementioned instincts tend to dim with age. Since the signing – and subsequent pressure – of Wayne Hennessey’s arrival from Wolverhampton Wanderers in January 2014, the Argentine has silenced all critics, and having clinched his fourth player-of-the-year gong last week, is quite possibly at the very pinnacle of his Eagles career.

Which is the strongest case for why now may be the time to say goodbye. At the end of last season, Palace wished a fond farewell to Wilfried Zaha, the young winger having torn Brighton and Hove Albion apart in the playoff semi-finals, before making the decisive run which led to the winning penalty in the final against Watford. As Palace fans, we’ll be forever grateful to Wilf for his role in where we are now, and the calls for his return are unnecessary and perhaps unrealistic. The team has moved on, and the reality is that Zaha would struggle to displace Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon.

Speroni will forever be part of the fabric and history of this club

Proof if it was needed that there is life after great players. With rumours swirling that Palace has made a £5 million bid for England and Norwich keeper John Ruddy, Hennessey having a decent debut against Fulham last Sunday and Fiorentina allegedly showing an interest in the Argentine, the signals suggest that now is the time to move on. Who could begrudge Speroni a move to Serie A, and the chance to play for, and wind down his career with, one of the greatest teams in the country of his ancestry?

Both Hennessey and Ruddy are good keepers, with age on their side (both are 27), and, crucially, Pulis choices. We may scream and shout when Speroni leaves, but few would deny the signings of Joe Ledley and Scott Dann by the Welshman have been nothing short of excellent. This is a manager who has proved season after season that he knows what it takes to maintain a competent Premier League side, and was rewarded with the LMA Premier League Manager of the Season award for his efforts in this campaign. As fans, we must trust his judgement.

Julian Speroni has been good for Crystal Palace FC and its fans, and I hope we’ve been good for him. In this case, whilst saying farewell will be tough, it can be done with good grace and the hope that whoever takes his number one jersey will be given just as much support as he has been given for the past 6-7 years. There won’t be another Julian Speroni, but he will forever be part of the fabric and history of this club, and should he leave, it will be at an all time high.

Thank you Jules, until we meet again. We look forward to the next crazy venture.

Disagree with Tom? So does Matt Woosnam. Watch out for his response piece at 9am today.

Tom Lickley

Tom Lickley

Contributing a variety of roles to the Citizen since early 2013, Tom now focuses upon regeneration, urbanism and real estate writing. He is a strategic communications consultant specialising in the real estate sector, and counts a number of the world's largest investment and fund management companies amongst his clients.

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