5 The Daily Telegraph Tuesday 28 July 2020 *** Sport Football Jason Burt There is little sense that a move for any of them would bring anger and recrimination from fans come to cut the talisman free. Maybe it is the end of an era for all three. Maybe their clubs also recognise that now. Maybe they have become over-reliant on them. And maybe it is for the best that they leave. Deeney, unsurprisingly, spoke frankly following Watford’s relegation that maybe his time was up at the club, although he took umbrage at suggestions he was alluding to retirement. At 32 Deeney has a taste for the top flight and, after a clean-up operation on his right knee, which is booked in for next week, he will want to finalise his future having discussed leaving in the past. The striker and Watford have come a long way since he was signed for £250,000 with money raised from a Sir Elton John concert at Vicarage Road, and his legendary status is secure. “I’ve had a great run,” he said, which sounded like the beginning of goodbye. Zaha has not hidden his desire to leave Palace and was bitterly disappointed that a move to Arsenal, and then Everton, could not be agreed last summer. Roy Hodgson, the Palace manager, did not hold back in saying, “We still like him very much; we can’t make him like us”, and the last thing any Palace fan will want is a souring of relations, given the 27-year-old would arguably top any poll of the club’s greatest-ever player. It does not feel like it is in anyone’s interests for Zaha to stay, and when the manager is saying the best player has been “poor” it is a clear sign of what should happen next. At Villa, manager Dean Smith understandably deflected talk of Grealish’s future by vowing to get drunk Chief Football Correspondent Why talismans Deeney, in celebration with the captain following the club’s final-day escape from relegation, but the discussion is not going away. The biggest problem for Grealish may be whether the appetite for another club to sign him is still there, given the constraints caused by the pandemic, but he is 25 in September and even the most ardent Villa fan will concede he is not going to fulfil his potential any time soon if he stays much longer. And that is the thing with football supporters. There is little sense that a move for any of those three players would be met with anger and recrimination. Possibly some will argue that their clubs – Villa and Palace in particular – should do more to make them stay by boosting their recruitment and showing ambition. But, rather, there will be an acknowledgement that they have played their part for the club they have served so well and it is time to go without their legacies suffering any damage. The danger is forcing the opposite and making them stay and, with it, skewing everything the club do. It is a difficult balance because without their talisman are the clubs the same and would they lose too much if they let them go? At the end of every season there is a chance to take stock, and sometimes the initial response is not always the best one. But for three iconic players and their clubs, it does appear that they have had their last dance. Grealish and Zaha have to move this summer I t is remarkable to think that between them Wilfried Zaha, Troy Deeney and Jack Grealish have played under 32 managers during their respective careers at Crystal Palace, Watford and Aston Villa. Some of those managers have been caretakers, others apparently more permanent, but during all that time – except for Zaha’s ill-fated move to Manchester United and a loan at Cardiff City – the three have proved to be the constant at their clubs. Deeney and Zaha lead the way with 13 managers apiece, having made their debuts a global nature of football, how clubs recruit from near and far, the competition that exists and the rewards that come from a transfer deal. It is mostly a free market and therefore encourages movement. What was interesting on the final day of the Premier League season was the sense that, with Deeney, Zaha and Grealish, the time had City probably fulfil similar roles, albeit at clubs who have enjoyed greater success, and endured less volatility, in recent years. Kane has already signalled his desire to move on, but will almost certainly be priced out of doing so, while Vardy was close to going to Arsenal four years ago. But each of those players has become the talisman during a time in football when such figures have become increasingly rare and difficult to identify. At some clubs that role has been fulfilled by a manager, such as Sean Dyche at Burnley or Eddie Howe at Bournemouth. The age of one-club players has largely gone, which is hardly a surprise given the Maybe it is the end of an era for all three. Maybe their clubs recognise that now N ow that the Premier League and English Football League – bar the Championship play-offs – have completed their seasons, the work really does have to begin on getting fans back into stadiums as quickly as possible. It is one thing finishing a campaign behind closed doors, and the relief of just having football back, but it is quite another having to deal with starting a new season in the same environment. There are so many inconsistencies in the Government’s guidelines across society for coping with coronavirus, but football should not be fobbed off when it can clearly – with fans sitting outdoors – be at the forefront of spectators returning to live events and can provide best practice for other sports and forms of entertainment to follow. So the game needs to be bolder in taking the lead and sharing information. It is also an opportunity to improve the spectator experience at football, especially down the leagues, and treat the fans with more respect, not least when it comes to the scheduling of games and transport. decade ago, and while Grealish made his first appearance at Villa only in 2014, aged 18, he has worked under six managers, which hardly smacks of stability. All three have been in the Championship as well as the Premier League. Against such volatility Deeney, Zaha and Grealish have basically provided the ballast. They have been the identifiable, go-to figures for the supporters: the rallying points at times and the hope throughout that at least there is some continuity for them to cling to in a sea of change. That is not to criticise the owners of Watford, Palace or, more recently, Villa, because they have all – unquestionably – improved their clubs and been good custodians, but what the fans care most about is what happens on the pitch and who is wearing the colours. Beyond those three, Harry Kane at Tottenham Hotspur and Jamie Vardy at Leicester
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