The Crystal Palace winger chats with Sulaiman Folarin about the magic of Tony Pulis, staying in the Premier League, and his relationship with Wilfried Zaha...
Rushden & Diamonds, Hillingdon Borough, Floriana in Malta, Plymouth, Barnet... was there ever a point in your early career where you doubted you'd make it?
Floriana FC in Malta [smiles]. I was always aiming for the Premier League from when I first started, but you never really think about it. It’s only now I am here that you do. When I was playing in the Conference and lower leagues, I was just thinking take it step by step. I wanted to play in the Championship and move up, but it happened a bit quickly. I played one season in the Championship with Crystal Palace and we were promoted to the Premier League. I thank God really that I’m also playing for the [DR Congo] national team.
I had the confidence that I would make it, but obviously you always have ups and downs and you do start to doubt as a footballer. In the Championship I wasn’t really playing. I was in and out [with Plymouth and Bristol City] and it was hard to believe, because I wasn’t performing too well on the pitch, but then I had a fresh clean start at Palace and started playing games. That brought back the belief.
Playing against a couple of Premier League teams during the season made me believe that I could play in the top league, and that brought the belief back since I had done well.
You’ve come a long way from playing in Malta to now as a Premier League starter. What advice do you have for upcoming players?
It’s a tough one, because I always remember where I come from. I never get overwhelmed with what I’m doing or how I’m doing it. I just try and go about my business and be myself. I haven’t changed and I’m not going to change for anyone. What I’ve done has got me up here in the first place so I can’t really change. I’m just going to do me.
Anyone who is trying to make it should be himself or herself and believe in their own abilities. There are always going to be obstacles, but you have to get over that and believe in yourself.
I never get overwhelmed with what I’m doing or how I’m doing it, I just try and go about my business and be myself"
How would you describe Crystal Palace’s season?
It’s been a little bit of a rollercoaster to be honest. I think the Palace fans have been great watching the whole thing, though. At the start of the season we weren’t doing too well. Now it looks like we’re really doing great. Now we’re on top of Hull. I remember looking at them at the start of the season when they were flying. We were at the bottom and they were in the top half. We were thinking "They're already safe", but now we’re on top of them.
By November this team was rock bottom of the Premier League. What was the mood like in the dressing room?
At the time, people believed we could get out, but obviously at the same time when you look at the league, it’s hard to think that, because it was a difficult path for the whole team. Everyone was trying to get used to the Premier League. Personally, I think the signings in January helped us as well.
One of the January signings was Tom Ince. Do you think the club should try to keep him?
Yes, Tom Ince is a very good winger. Right now he’s just unlucky not to be playing, because the team has been winning. When the team is winning it’s hard to change that really. So that’s why he has not gotten some minutes lately.
- Born 24 May 1989, Lyon, France
- Height 6ft 1in
- Teams 2005-06 Rushden & Diamonds
- 2006-07 Hillingdon Borough (5 games, 0 goals)
- 2007-08 Floriana (24, 4)
- 2008-11 Plymouth (54, 8)
- 2008-09 Rushden & D (loan)
- 2009-10 Barnet (loan: 42, 5)
- 2011-12 Bristol City (25, 1)
- 2012- Crystal Palace (72, 3)
- 2013- DR Congo (3, 0)
What’s different between Ian Holloway and Tony Pulis in their coaching styles?
Tony Pulis knows the Premier League really well. He’s never been relegated from the Premier League, which makes a huge difference. Obviously he’s a good manager as well. With Pulis, the players have more confidence. He’s made us believe that we can play in the Premier League. We want to try and stay there now. I’m sure the manager has got his plans so we’ll see what happens.
I think we were open to teams at the start of the season; we were playing into their hands. We had a lot of new players as well, and they didn’t really know the style that Ian Holloway wanted to play which made it even harder.
What's been the secret to the turnaround?
It has been hard work, dedication and organisation from top to bottom. The fans have played a big part as well in supporting the team. They kept supporting no matter what the scores were in games. They kept supporting in November, and that 12th man attitude has helped us as a team.
What are the biggest differences you’ve noticed in playing in the Premier League and the Championship?
The Championship is obviously is a bit faster; it’s end-to-end football. In the Premier League, from my experience, teams control the game; one team always has it. You have to be patient, whereas in the Championship it’s a bit more direct; both teams are open and anyone can win.
Has anything about the Premier League taken you by surprise?
I wouldn’t say so. I wouldn’t say anything has taken me by surprise to be honest. It’s good playing against top players from all around the world, which is what you get in the Premier League. I expected it to be this tough and was mentally prepared.
No Premier League goals yet; do you think you can still score this season?
I’m always confident that I will score goals. In the matches, though, I just go with the flow. If the chances pop up, fine; if they don’t, then they don’t. You don’t know if you’re going to score goals, but I'm confident that I can.
I haven’t really been concentrating on it this season. The main thing really is Premier League safety. But next season I really will be putting my mind to that, because obviously that’s the only part of my game now that seems to be missing.
How hard was it to adapt without Wilfried Zaha?
Obviously it was a bit hard. Me and Wilfried had a good partnership; he knew my game, and I knew his. We were always in sync and we had Glenn Murray scoring the goals. But me and Wilfried's combination was only getting better and better. He moved on to bigger and better things, but on a personal note it would also be great if he came back to Palace.
It would have been good if he came back to Palace on loan instead of going to Cardiff. But that’s football. He is a Manchester United player, so they have the decision on that.
Are you surprised he's struggled to feature under David Moyes?
At the start of pre-season I saw him playing a lot of games. So I thought he would be heavily involved really, but come the start of the season things changed so it was a little bit of a shock. Sometimes you go through those times in football. I think you just have to clear your head and just get on with it.
It would have been good if Wilfried came back to Palace on loan instead of going to Cardiff"
How much would you like to be reunited with him next season on loan back at Palace?
I speak to Wilfried a lot, we’re friends. That would be up to him really [smiles]. We don’t always talk about that, because we don’t always talk about football. Like I said, we are friends and this is my friend outside of football.
What's the best thing about being a footballer?
I’m passionate about it. I wake up and do something that I love every day. That’s the best thing for me. I’ve always wanted to be a footballer; it took a lot of hard work to make it. I’m almost there now, but I’m going to keep working hard because it doesn’t stop here for me.
Describe your perfect day...
I think a perfect day for any footballer or any forward player is to score a hat-trick. When you do that, you’d be happy!