Sakho leadership vital for Palace

Crystal Palace
Mamadou Sakho is Crystal Palace's only absentee as they travel to face Newcastle at St James' Park on Saturday.

A quiet summer at Selhurst Park meant the biggest celebration for the fans was when news came through that they had kept some of their best players.

While Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sold for a sizeable fee to Manchester United early in the window, the Eagles saw skipper Luka Milivojevic sign a new four-year deal.

However, the highlight was the board’s refusal to sell Wilfried Zaha. Try as he might, Zaha could not persuade them to let him go.

First it was boyhood club Arsenal who were interested, bidding a reported £40m, which was swiftly slapped down by the Eagles. Zaha said he wanted to join a club in the Champions League, but nobody stumped up the cash and it was finally left to Everton to try and prise him away.

Bids in the region of £75m were spoken about and the Toffees were dogged in their pursuit. However, despite the 26-year-old submitting a transfer request, Palace stood firm and he remained an Eagle.

To complicate things, Everton were first up for Roy Hodgson’s side and Zaha started from the bench after being sent home from training for, in Hodgson’s words, not being in the ‘right frame of mind’.

A rousing reception greeted him when introduced on 65 minutes and, in fairness, the Abidjan-born star played well, shaking off predictions of an indifferent display and that could well have been down to Mamadou Sakho.

It has emerged the French defender called a players’ meeting to clear the air. With boss Hodgson absent, reports suggest the Frenchman demanded that Zaha commit to the side and ensure he gave his all in matches.

Zaha’s performance on Saturday suggests he acquiesced and this type of leadership from Sakho could be what is needed for Palace to avoid a relegation fight.

On the evidence their opening match, goals may be hard to come by and it could take plenty of grit and determination for them to escape the drop.

While known for being somewhat of a relaxed character off the field, the 29-year-old Salho is a warrior on it. At six foot two and 83 kg, the France international can battle with the best and his style of play evokes memories of times gone by.

Having grown up in the rough and tumble Parisian suburb of Goutte d’Or, Sakho is no stranger to having the odds against him and his leadership qualities were identified early on. After captaining France through the age groups, he became the youngest player ever to skipper a Ligue 1 club at 17.

Some outsiders may see his actions as a bit rich after Sakho left former club Liverpool under a cloud. The Frenchman was an exceptional performer as the Reds came close to winning the Premier League title under Brendan Rodgers, but his attitude made it tough for him to rub along with Jurgen Klopp.

The German coach famously sent him home from Liverpool’s pre-season tour to the USA in 2016 for disciplinary issues and his fate seemed sealed when he was moved out on loan to Palace in January 2017, joining permanently the following August.

Since then he has excelled and has become a stalwart of the side. That ability to bring people together will be vital looking at the Palace squad.

Traditionally a side built on solid foundations, they maybe short of numbers. At 32, Scott Dann is not the solid customer he once was, while new boy Gary Cahill and right-back Joel Ward have barely played in the top flight over the 18 months.

On the other side of the field, Patrick van Aanholt can also go AWOL. Therefore, Sakho and central defensive partnership James Tomkins could find themselves holding the fort.

A knee injury picked up last season is currently sidelining the Frenchman but, once available, he will be back in the side.

Sakho seems to have acted as a peace-keeping force following the Zaha saga. The influence he exerted shows just how huge he could be this season at Selhurst.