Patrick Vieira believes that Jean-Philippe Mateta is a “different player” after signing permanently for Crystal Palace and has pinpointed the FA Cup win against South London rivals Millwall as a turning point in his career with the Eagles.
The 24-year-old French forward initially joined Palace on an 18-month loan deal from Mainz 05 with an option to buy under Roy Hodgson in the winter window of the 2020-21 season.
Under World Cup winner Vieira, Mateta only made one start – the opening day 3-0 defeat at Chelsea – in the first half of the Premier League season and was set to have his loan spell cut short.
But after scoring against Norwich in the 3-0 win in late December, followed up by grabbing the winner in the 2-1 FA Cup third-round win against Millwall, Mateta was handed a starting role in the side, and Palace chose to sign the forward permanently.
Mateta penned a four-and-a-half-year deal to keep him at Selhurst Park until 2026.
“The Millwall game gave him the confidence and belief that he can play in the team. When we decided as a club to keep him, and he signed his contract, the confidence and belief went to a different level,” explained Vieira of the turning point in Mateta’s Crystal Palace career.
“It is sometimes really difficult when you are in between, and you don’t have any answer over what will be your next move, or there is a question mark because that brings doubt.
“That is why we made the early decision because he showed in training there was something interesting for the team and that he could give us something different.
“Now he is a different player because he has the self-belief and confidence to go on the field and help the team to perform with the way he is defending up front or the number of times he is running in behind.
“It was there the whole time, but it was just about him getting it out, and the goals he scored and the confidence and belief from his team-mates helped him to get to the next level. He has been really good for us.”
French side Saint-Étienne were believed to be the club most interested in taking Mateta in the winter window before the Eagles tied him down to a permanent contract.
When asked how close Mateta was to leaving, Vieira said: “Everything was on the table when we were talking about what we do with JP.
“Dougie [Freedman] always saw something interesting in him, and he showed me in training he is a good risk to gamble on that.
“I am pleased we made that decision because he gives us something different and has been good to the team.”
MAIN PIC: ROB AVIS