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Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway says nothing shocks him in football these days

Evening Standard

Ian Holloway is preparing for the richest match in club football at Wembley still reeling from the cheap shots aimed in his direction during the semi-final.

Crystal Palace face Watford in Bank Holiday Monday’s £120million play-off for the final place in next season’s Premier League but it has been a far from pleasant journey to the national stadium for the 50-year-old.

The semi-final with Brighton has taken its toll on Holloway and his opposite number Gus Poyet, who has been suspended by the south-coast club in the wake of the second leg at the Amex Stadium. Though he claims nothing shocks him in football, Holloway has been deeply affected by events on Monday, May 13.

Holloway had been angered by suggestions the players were not behind him and his hackles were further raised when Palace’s coach was sent the wrong way by a steward on arrival.

Then, when the manager and his players finally reached the dressing room, they were disgusted to discover excrement in the toilet and shower areas.

Palace may have had the last laugh over their bitter rivals by winning the second-leg 2-0, courtesy of two well-taken Wilfried Zaha goals, but Holloway’s celebrations were spoiled by winger Yannick Bolasie posting footage of the his dressing-room dance on the internet.

“Nothing shocks me in football these days,” says Holloway of the awful scene which greeted Palace in their dressing room. “Some complete mindless, idiot let Brighton down. My players were so professional, absolutely to a man brilliant.

“When we arrived at the ground the steward sent our coach deliberately the wrong way. That was classless. I believe things like that come back on you.

“If you can’t enjoy yourself after a performance and a result like that in the privacy of your dressing room . . . but this is how we live in the modern world. Everybody has a mobile phone. I did not know it was being filmed by one of my players. He’s got a flea in his ear.

“We are very glad [there was no film of] what was happening all those years ago in the Leeds United dressing room when you had such strong characters like Billy Bremner, Johnny Giles and Jack Charlton. Good gracious me. My dance steps should have been private.”

Poyet was equally angry at the vandalism of Palace’s dressing room, firing off an email that led to his suspension and likely departure from the club.

However, though Holloway admits to being “totally surprised” by Brighton’s reaction, he is no fan of the Uruguayan’s management skills.

“At the end of the game he criticises his players for not being quite good enough and he needs some more [transfer] money,” says Holloway. “It is very, very difficult to comprehend how someone can say something as stupid as that. Gus has had three and a half years [at Brighton]. I have just taken over this lot. I have praised them all along.”

Though critical of Watford loaning eight players from sister clubs Udinese and Granada, Holloway is looking forward to locking horns with Poyet’s former Chelsea team-mate, Gianfranco Zolo, at Wembley.

“Their manager is an absolute gentleman so I will be looking forward to the game very much,” he says.

“Watford have deserved it. They are really good, filled with quality. The family who own the club are very, very clever. They have used the transfer market better than anyone else. Their foreign players have done a fantastic job.”

Monday will be Holloway’s fourth play-off final — his only victory came with Blackpool in 2010 — and he knows Zaha will play a critical role in his final game for the club before moving to Manchester United.

“He summed up the semi-final,” says Holloway. “One of the pundits was saying he was overrated, next minute he scores. He is world class. But it has been very difficult to deal with the adulation and speculation he was getting, one of the hardest things in my managerial career.”

Holloway, it transpires, played a big role in the 20-year-old forward’s move to Old Trafford. Zaha, who made his debut for England against Sweden last November, was coveted by a number of clubs, including Arsenal, but the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring was taking its toll on the Ivory Coast-born player.

“Wilfried was being rung up by the agents saying he should sign with them because they could get him to Arsenal, Manchester United, Real Madrid or whoever. I got rid all of that by ringing the main man myself.”

Events moved on after Palace had played a Peterborough side managed by Sir Alex Ferguson’s son, Darren.

“Darren was talking to me after showers and said, ‘I must talk to dad about him. He’s an absolute genius.’ I thought Darren would have done and Fergie would have been on the case. I wondered if he would love to do a deal and loan him back like he did with [Chris] Smalling to Fulham.

“I rang Fergie up and said, ‘Are you interested?’ Fergie said, ‘We will think about it.’ He rang back and said, ‘We do like him.’ He sent David Gill and after that I had nothing else to do with it.”

With such a long break between games, Watford have been preparing for the final in Spain while Palace have been at their Beckenham training ground.

“What you want is for your players to believe they can do it and get them to perform as they did against Brighton. That was the best performance my team have given since I’ve been here. I just want them to do it again.

“There are only three things I can do. Prepare them beforehand. Calm them down at the start of the game, make them sure they know their job. Wait to see what happens at half time and try to help them. If it goes to penalties at the end, hopefully, I will have picked the right people to take them. Other than that I can’t do much now.”

Palace have been practising penalties but Holloway does not know who will take them. “It depends on how the games goes and who is left on the pitch.”

Whatever happens on Monday, Holloway knows what he has to do next. “I believe I can help young players get better,” he says. “I believe supporters will love seeing players like Johnny Williams in the team. I’m only here to improve players. I can see them getting better all the time. I have to replace the players I’ve got with youth players brought up in this area. That is what I am about.”

      

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