Crystal Palace's flying MC tells FourFourTwo's James Maw all about Wilf, Warnock and battling Bradley Wright-Phillips on the mic...
How difficult was it with Tony Pulis leaving and the club changing managers right at the start of the season?
It was definitely a surprise. I didn't have a clue it was coming, but that's football – you never know what's around the corner. It was difficult, obviously. All the boys are used to it now, but you’ve got to feel sorry for the players [Tony Pulis] had just signed. It was kinda tough, but we're dealing with it alright. We've got a new gaffer now and he's come in with a few new ideas and the boys are gelling quickly.
- Born 24 May 1989, Lyon, France
- Height 6ft 1in
- Teams 2005-06 Rushden & D
- 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 (82, 3)
- 2013- DR Congo (3, 0)
Has Neil Warnock changed much since coming in, or is he keeping it much the same?
I think eventually he’ll change a lot, but you don’t want to disrupt what’s going on right now. We've got a lot of senior lads in the team who know exactly how the team works, so I don’t think he wants to change too much in a short space of time. We've got a reputation as being a well organised team defensively, and I think any manager would want to build on that. It’s a tough league and you’ve got to be able to defend first, before you can go and attack.
It's probably safe to say Neil Warnock isn't the most popular guy with fans of other teams, but what kind of guy is he?
He's a good manager and a good person to work with. I met him about a year ago, actually, he put across some of his ideas about the team back then and we got on well, so it's strange that he's turned up here a year later. He's a good guy, and it helps that he was here before. At the end of the day, players come and go – there may only be two or three left from when he was here before – but he knows the club and knows the fans and that's what's important.
The fans pump the place up and we can feel the energy – it goes right through us"
How important are the fans to Palace?
The fans here are very important – at home, especially. They pump the place up and we can feel the energy – it goes right through us. We don't feel under pressure, but we know there's an expectation at home to have a go, and we react to that.
Wilfried Zaha has returned this summer. You two had a good relationship here when Palace got promoted, are you pleased to have him back?
It’s good that Wilf's come back. He needs to get his confidence back by playing games and Palace is a good place for him to do that. We have other wingers as well, so the competition is healthy, but Wilf is up there with the best I've played with. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens. He has massive potential, but a lot of people have potential – you have to fulfil it. If he can do that he’ll be unstoppable.
So far it hasn't worked out for him at Manchester United, but he has to be patient and take his time. Palace and United are two very different environments. At Palace people might underestimate us and you can catch them off-guard, but at United you don’t get that. The change in manager could have played a big part too; Alex Ferguson signed Wilf but wasn't there by the time he arrived at United.
Last season Palace finished a very respectable 11th place with 45 points – what's the target this time around?
They say the second season is always the toughest season in the Premier League. So, with everything that’s gone on just before the start of the season, I think staying up again has to be the first priority, and then we'll just take it from there.
On Sunday you travel to Everton. Can you win at Goodison like last season?
The team hasn't changed that much so we’ll be remembering what we did there last season and going in to the game with confidence. They’ll have what happened last season on their mind too, and they'll think they know what to do to beat us, so it should be a good game. They have a European game on Thursday night, so hopefully that'll make them a bit tired, but they've got a big squad with good replacement, so it'll be tough game regardless.
The plan will be to be compact and try and play on the counter. That worked well for us last season. It's what we usually try and do in these kind of games, and it’s a hard role to play for a winger because a lot of the time you don’t see the ball. I don't think some people realise that you're still doing your job when that happens, and that's frustrating for any winger. When you don’t have get the ball that much you almost feel like you're doing nothing, then when you get the ball you want to do the most spectacular thing you can think of, but in reality the simple thing is usually best. That's the winger's life, I guess.
Speaking of the difficulties of being a winger, who are the toughest full-backs you've played against in the Premier League?
Bacary Sagna is solid, you can tell he’s experienced. He's very good at tackling and he also matched me for pace and strength – so he's a good challenge. Pablo Zabaleta is the same, and [Seamus] Coleman at Everton is very good too. I enjoy playing against the guys who get forward, trying to stop them. When I played against Coleman at Everton last season I don’t recall him getting in any crosses down my side in to the box. It’s a challenge I put on myself and I like to think I do a decent job defensively against the full-back as well – I know if I can do that, I can put them on the back foot and attack them.
Over the years some of the tricks drop out of your game. The older you get the more you realise you need to be more direct"
You're known to be a player with a trick or two up your sleeve – any you're particularly proud of?
Over the years some of the tricks drop out of your game. The tricks were good about three years ago when I was 23, 22, but now I know when I get half a yard I've got to put it in to the box or pass it. The higher up you go and the older you get the more you realise you need to be more direct. Sometimes you wish you could do some more [tricks], but at the end of the day it’s a game of results.
One of your other skills is MC-ing and you're about to take on Bradley Wright-Phillips in football's ultimate rap battle – tell us more...
When I was younger I used to be a grime MC. I’d been brought up around it and when I turned pro it was always the music I listened to for inspiration and motivation. When Bradley and me were at Plymouth, we used to send each other voicemails and videos. Eventually people saw the videos and now we're going to battle. We both always thought that we were better than each other, but I'm confident I'll beat him.
Any chance you'll be taking on any of your Palace team-mates in future?
It's underground music so there wont be many people who actually listen to it. Some of the guys understand the lyrics, but aren’t quite as into it as I am.
What about Neil Warnock? Could he battle?
[Laughs] I think he’d be like ‘what the hell is this?’ I’ve been brought up with it, so no matter how fast the beat goes, I can understand it.