Palace must lift their game as Leicester might keep improving

Leicester’s players let down Claudio Ranieri. I’ve never been a manager, but the manager will always get the blame. In my day, if the players weren’t doing so well, the manager would get the sack. It was the chairman, then the manager, then the players. Now it’s different: it’s the players, owners second and the manager third. Yet he still gets the blame. If Leicester go on a run now, everyone will know it was the players. They’ll have let Ranieri down. There has to be something more to this story, much more. For some reason we don’t know, it was like Leicester’s players didn’t want to play for the manager any more.

Craig Shakespeare steered Leicester to a great win over Liverpool. What now if they win three games in a row? Should he get the job? I’m surprised that Roy Hodgson is in the mix to replace Ranieri. I thought Roy was poor in the summer as England manager. He was sat on the bench, when he could have been in the technical area, helping the team to improve. He wouldn’t be my choice to replace Ranieri. Nigel Pearson has respect at Leicester. Sometimes players respect coaching staff. Players have power, on and off the pitch. They might like Shakespeare. This happened at Chelsea, with Mourinho. The players lost respect after the incident with the physio. That’s player power! Sports people have a lot of power nowadays, as individuals and as a group.

The frightening thing for me is that if Leicester build on beating Liverpool, it’ll be bad for my old team Crystal Palace. Hopefully Palace will be lifted and the players will think “Hold on, if Leicester are doing well, we have to lift our game”. Palace are working hard. They worked very hard in the first half against Middlesbrough and the atmosphere in the second half was incredible. Every time Palace got the ball, the excitement was unbelievable. The tension and the atmosphere was amongst the best I’ve seen for some time. The moans and groans when Boro had the ball and the cheers when we did. The ref played maybe seven minutes of injury time and the tension was fantastic! I did the post-match chat in Speroni’s and everyone was buzzing, it was fantastic to see.

Palace have to go into every game and try to win. Single points are not enough. We have to beat the teams around us. West Brom away is next and our old boss Tony Pulis will have a big insight on Palace. He’s a bright manager, very experienced and he’ll target our weak spots. If we can get a 0-0 out of that, I’d be very pleased. The next game before the international break is Watford at home. If we can get four points from those two games, that’s what we’ve got to do. Try to make it solid, 1-0. We’ve got to make a statement in the next two games, because of the break, to show our rivals that we are hard to beat.

We need those four points because next is Chelsea and Southampton away and we have to stick ten men behind the ball and defend for our lives. It’s going to go to the end of the season, there’s no doubt about that in my mind. I don’t care what you have to put in front of the goal, do it! It comes to the point where you have to fight for your life. Every player must defend for their life. Hopefully we can get enough points out of those four games, that it helps to make us safe. Next after that will be Arsenal at home and Palace just have to hope that maybe a top team like Arsenal might have a nightmare. That’s what makes the Premier League such a brilliant league, the best in the world. Leicester have got something about them again now and all the teams around them will need to work twice as hard.

Palace’s last six games are a massive contrast. Three sides in relegation battles at home and three sides vying for Europe away! For your last six games you’d like teams that have nothing to play for. City and Utd won’t win the league now, Arsenal might be playing for second place by then. Hopefully some of the others might have gained some points too. It would be better for Palace if these sides have less to play for by the time we play them. It would be lovely if we could beat Leicester and Burnley at home! The next two games are obviously the important ones – West Brom and Watford – and we can’t think too far too ahead. I’ll do a blog nearer the time to discuss how things have gone, but Palace will need to take stock as they go along.

For Arsenal, it’s not been a good season. Chelsea will win the league. If we can finish second and win the FA Cup, I think most Arsenal fans will be happy with that. There’s a lot of talk about Wenger going and I think it’ll be a tough end to the season. Will Wenger go? It’s a huge decision for the club. If they had a massive run in the league they could win it, but realistically the Premier League and the Champions League are out of the question now. There’s unrest among Liverpool fans too and that’s football now: supporters keep behind the players. I’ve told the story before of how when Stuart Pearce was Man City manager he wanted to out a player for diving, but the City fans backed the player and they booed Pearce! Even though he was telling the truth!

In the Champions League, there’s one thing to say: the Arsenal players have something to prove. The first leg defeat in Germany has knocked the wind out of the players. They should be in the press before the second leg saying to the fans “We’re going to make this up to you”. And then if you win 2-0, you can turn round and say that you’ve done your bit. I think it’s all over completely as a tie. All the Arsenal players can do now is put on a performance for the fans.

Arsene Wenger has done a magnificent job at Arsenal, there’s no doubt about it, but all the excitement there used to be has gone. If Wenger is going to go, then it should be announced soon. If the new man was someone young, bring them in early and let them learn in what’s left of the season. Obviously that wouldn’t happen with a more experienced man, who could be challenging for honours elsewhere, but could with someone like Eddie Howe. We had a famous Don Howe, maybe Eddie could be similar. And if he could do half as well, that would be a great compliment to Don!

I was at Wembley Stadium recently, for a photoshoot to commemorate 50 years of the League Cup Final taking place there. It was fantastic and I remember very well lifting the trophy as captain for Arsenal in 1987. The win was remembered for it being the first time Liverpool lost when Ian Rush had scored. Charlie Nicholas scored two goals – two of the softest goals you’ll ever see! I got very emotional afterwards and I said in TV interviews that my medal was for my son Harry.

I chatted to the new England boss Gareth Southgate at the Wembley photoshoot and I said to him “how comes we don’t do throw-ons more quickly and give the ball away so much?” So if in England’s next games you can see that we are taking quick throw-ons and giving the ball away less, you can put that one down to me! I’m looking forward to England’s next games, a friendly in Germany on March 22nd and home to Lithuania a few days later. Southgate can use the Germany friendly to field the players where he wants them to be.

Gareth won’t see the players every week, so he’ll have to work closely with his staff and scouts. You have to play the right players up against the right opponents. You need to have a Plan A, Plan B and a Plan C. And then a Plan D. In the modern game, Plan A is not enough, you need options. Different plans, that you can shift to when you need to. That’s why training is so important. Training can be like hard work, but it is so important, to plan for winning matches.

Personally, I’m in a good place. I’m feeling safe and well. I’m working at Palace, a club I love. I’m doing some work and looking to do talks in schools about my life experiences, including showing a DVD of some career moments. So I’m in a good place and I hope it carries on. I’m taking life one day at a time and I’m doing well against my addictions. I have projects I am working on and I aim to keep it that way. The support has been fantastic and it means a lot to me.

I’ve been filming interviews towards a life story DVD and there are two film premiere dinners coming up, in London, where the film will be shown, on March 31 and April 7. There will be some special guests there too, so if you want to come along to meet me and share these special nights, please book now (I’m listed just after the Kerry Dixon events).

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