The Story of Why Steve Mandanda Has Left Crystal Palace

Palace Article

The failed experiment that is Steve Mandanda at Crystal Palace has finally come to an end. Yohan Cabaye, beating any official announcements by either Club, confirmed the goalkeepers move to Marseilles on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon.

The France number two managed just ten appearances for the Eagles before an innocuous knee injury removed him from between the sticks. Despite Wayne Hennessey’s indifferent form as the stand in number one during the absence of Mandanda, the Olympique Marseille folk hero was unable to reclaim his place in goal.

Mandanda made his Crystal Palace debut against Blackpool in the second round of the League Cup, and the Selhurst Park crowd immediately took to the goalkeeper – “STEEEEVE” rang around the stadium every time that he touched the ball. Unfortunately, this would be the only clean sheet that he would manage for Crystal Palace.

Having missed the poor start to the season, Mandanda would not taste defeat in his first six appearances for the Club. His league debut came in the 1-1 draw against Bournemouth in South London on August 27th, and he would then be on the winning team in the next three matches vs. Middlesbrough (2-1), Stoke (4-1) and Sunderland (3-2). The last game of the undefeated streak was at Goodison Park in a 1-1 draw when a wall that didn’t jump for a Romelu Lukaku free-kick cost him a first clean sheet in the Premier League.

Then came the pain, for Mandanda and Crystal Palace fans alike. Four defeats would follow against West Ham, Leicester, Liverpool and Burnley, seeing the French keeper concede 11 goals during this stretch. In what would be his final appearance for the Club, Mandanda was at fault for two of the three Burnley goals, and Palace fans were starting to question his quality.

Off went Mandanda on international duty and it was there that he would pick up a knee injury that was initially only supposed to keep him out of action for two weeks. By the start of December, six more weeks were tagged on to the end of his expected absence from first team action. By January, everyone was wondering what on earth was going on.

With Social Media the way it is these days, and the Crystal Palace’s media teams willingness to be so involved with the various platforms, it was clear to see that Steve Mandanda was training with the first team. The videos showed that he was moving freely and training every bit as much as Hennessey and Club legend, Julian Speroni. So, why was he not winning his place back from the deteriorating Welshman?

There have been many theories. I will line them up and make my conclusion at the end.

One story that is common knowledge is that his wife was homesick and did not take to South London. This sort of friction at home is always going to put a strain on a person, and we should all remember that football is not the be all and end all for the players that represent our colours. They have lives of their own off the field and they are fully entitled to those lives. 

Effectively, Marseilles sold Mandanda to us because they could not afford to keep him. I do not think that he wanted to leave Marseilles for one moment. Mere days after he left, his former Club was pumped full of cash, and it became very apparent that he would have been able to stay if he held his nerve a little bit longer. This must have been an annoyance for the stopper.

Then there is the story about Sam Allardyce and his body fat percentage limit, one that I shared on Holmesdale Radio towards the end of the season. The ironies of the former Gaffer being called Big Fat Sam aside, there is a theory that he only allows players into the first team if they are in and around 8% body fat. It is clear that Mandanda sits somewhat higher than this. I have reason to believe that Allardyce did employ this Body Fat percentage regime – I have it on very good authority (make of this what you will. I am, at the end of the day, only a blogger with no ties to the inner workings of the Club). However, I am not sure that this tells the entire story. Why would Allardyce be so strict on a goalkeeper that had made a name for himself as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe, while operating at a higher body fat percentage? Surely Allardyce would realise his quality and make an exception to the rule?

Another theory is that one more appearance would trigger another payment to Marseilles. This add-on may well have been true, but are we that tight on cash that a couple hundred grand (I have no idea how much it would have been, but considering the initial deal was only a couple of million – I doubt that it could have been that much)? Maybe it was. Maybe Parish said to Allardyce; “your budget is this much” to which Allardyce responded “well, can I have that money there if I don’t play Mandanda again?” Who knows?

The final theory is that Allardyce and Mandanda fell out the day that Mandanda resumed training. I have heard from multiple sources (sauces more like?) that Allardyce and Mandanda had a blazing argument at the training ground and that was that for the Frenchman.

So, what do I think? For what it is worth, I think that it is a combination of all of the above. If Steve and his missus were home sick, it would make it hard for him to be determined to prove himself in South London, especially if he already knew that he could get a move back to Marseilles with their new found riches. Allardyce then comes in and knows that another appearance from the Frenchman would mean cash, that could prove vital in helping us avoid relegation, leaving the coughers. During his first training sessions, Allardyce sees a goalkeeper in training that is not fully committed to the cause and doesn’t fit his body fat percentage criteria. He then pulls the keeper up on these things, they have a row about it, and the outcome suits them both. Allardyce has a bit more money in January and Mandanda gets a move back to France.

This is probably just wild speculation on my behalf, but (as it is no longer important that the information doesn’t get out) I thought that I would share what I have heard (without revealing my sources) and piece it together in a way that seems to make senses.

My genuine hope was that Frank de Boer would be able to convince Steve to stay. I saw enough in his ten appearances to know that he is a better keeper than Hennessey and I certainly believed that he could have played a major role this season. No doubt he’ll now head back to Ligue 1 this season and win the league.  Sadly, it appears that Mandanda’s heart was set on a move back to ‘his’ Club and we now have to hope that the rumours about Palace signing Jasper Cillessan, from Barcelona, are true.

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