Ninety seconds was all it took Rickie Lambert to stamp his name into the long list of Liverpool goalscorers when the Reds travelled to Selhurst to play Crystal Palace on Sunday. In fact this exact same fixture last year began in a similar way- Liverpool scoring early and, well, you know the rest. Palace fans could only hope for a similar scenario after 90 seconds. Who would have thought they’d be celebrating something even better?
Historically, when I reveal to people I’m a Palace fan, I inadvertently find myself inflecting a tone of voice similar to that of a man attending his first AA meeting. A club’s history such as ours can do that to you. But on the opposite side of the coin, there is quite a bit to be proud of for the modern day supporter of the Eagles. First consecutive seasons ever in the Premier League since its inception in 1992, and flashy, pacey counter-attacking football spearheaded by the likes of Yannick Bolasie and Jason Puncheon. One other reason to be excited however, and perhaps Palace’s most effective vaccine against the dreaded “second season syndrome” is the midfield magistrate that is Mile Jedinak.
During the pre-season analyses of Palace last year, many pundits agreed on one thing: down by December. There were cases raised for the likes of Julián Speroni and Joel Ward being the selection of a very minimal player pool up to snuff for the Premier League’s pace and physicality, but there was almost no concern about Jedinak being able to adjust. In fact, the, “they’ll go as he goes” verdict was commonly laid to rest on his big set of shoulders week in and week out. The results spoke for themselves.
According to WhoScored.com, Mile Jedinak was the eighth highest rated player over the course of the entire 2013/2014 season, trailing behind household names such as David Silva, Wayne Rooney, and Eden Hazard by just fractions of a point. Second in the league in tackles per game (3.5), first in the league in interceptions per game (3.7). This season he has started in an almost identical fashion, currently third in the league in tackles per game (4.4) and first in interceptions (3.9). He’s a true captain, a true defensive midfielder, and a true leader of men with a penchant for winning aerial battles. The only reason Arsenal isn’t knocking down his door is because he’s on the wrong side of thirty, about 10 years past the maximum transfer age for Arsène Wenger and his ideology. Not that Palace fans are complaining. Thirty is the new twenty.
If Jedinak was flying a bit under the radar before, that is soon to not be the case. If there’s one thing that will draw the attention of managers and fans alike, it’s scoring goals, a non-factor in the Australian’s overall game last year, but certainly already a factor in this still-young season.
In 38 appearances for Palace last year, Jedinak managed to find the net just once, and that was from the penalty spot. In eleven appearances so far this year he’s hit four goals, the most recent of which began innocently enough as a 30-yard free kick and ended up as a felony committed against Simon Mignolet’s top left corner (also on a side note: A true Australian should be able to command all things boomerang. As the trajectory of that ball seemingly passed through 2 different postcodes en route to goal, it certainly qualifies as an example). He’s a hard-tackling midfielder who now poses a real goal threat, putting him in rarefied air, reserves previously inhaled only by the likes of Yaya Touré in today’s Premier League.
Mile Jedinak has a bit of what I like to call the Antonio Di Natale archetype, a player that’s found the form of his life in an unlikely time, the twilight of his footballing career. Palace fans should feel relatively comfortable about keeping their captain for the rest of his competitive playing days, but there’s always the chance that a club looking to shore up their midfield could show the cash for a 30-year-old proven leader of men. And given the form he’s been in, that inquiry would certainly come from a top half team.
But for now, Palace fans need to take a step back and enjoy what’s on display in their red and blue stripes – a true gem of a player, uncommon in the game and unequalled in the historic fibres of Crystal Palace’s footballing tapestry.