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Return to empty grounds would be ‘disaster’ for football, says Patrick Vieira

The Crystal Palace boss also paid tribute to Everton manager Rafael Benitez ahead of Sunday’s meeting between the sides.

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Patrick Vieira hopes football can continue to be played with fans in attendance (Tess Derry/PA)

Patrick Vieira hopes football can continue to be played with fans in attendance (Tess Derry/PA)

Patrick Vieira hopes football can continue to be played with fans in attendance (Tess Derry/PA)

Crystal Palace manager Patrick Vieira has admitted it would be a “disaster” for football to return to being played behind closed doors.

The Eagles have cancelled their Christmas party due to the escalating coronavirus situation in the country, with the UK Government on Wednesday implementing ‘Plan B’ in England in response to the spread of the Omicron variant.

While there is no suggestion the sport will return to being played without supporters soon – as it was when football resumed after the first lockdown in 2020 – Vieira is clear that he would not enjoy matches taking place in empty grounds again.

“This is the worst-case scenario,” Vieira replied when asked about the potential for the sport to go back behind closed doors.

“From my personal point of view, it is a disaster to play football matches without the fans.

“It is something that is difficult to process and I hope we will not get there because what the games needs is to have fans at the stadium.”

Vieira revealed he is double vaccinated ahead of Sunday’s game at home to Everton and reflected on the worrying situation in the Premier League regarding the virus.

Tottenham have been forced to cancel matches, while other clubs have been left without players due to positive Covid-19 cases.

It was part of the reason behind Palace halting plans to have a Christmas party this year.

“This is part of the culture of this country, this Christmas party the players are doing,” Vieira explained.

“We did it a couple of years ago and this is something players like to do, but obviously with the situation, we and the players decided to cancel the Christmas party and this was the right thing to do.”

The Government’s ‘Plan B’ measures mean proof of vaccination or a negative lateral flow test will be required for spectators to attend sporting events in England with crowds of over 10,000.

But Vieira added: “There is some specialist who will have to say if it is mandatory or not to have the vaccine or these kind of (NHS) passes you need to go into the stadium.

“The only thing I can tell you is, myself, I have the double vaccination and I strongly believe we need to have it, but everyone has to make their own decision on that side.”

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Returning to football matters, the Palace boss paid tribute to opposite number Rafael Benitez ahead of Sunday’s meeting between the pair at Selhurst Park.

The Everton manager has been under pressure but eased the growing discontent with a 2-1 win over Arsenal on Monday.

Vieira knows what to expect from the Spaniard and played down talk Benitez only plays a certain brand of football.

“Something that was clear is that any team he managed, especially the Liverpool one, was going to be tough and difficult because those teams are well organised,” he noted.

“But I think we have to really be careful about thinking some managers are more defensive or offensive.

“Sometimes you have to manage with the level and the quality of the players you have compared to who you are going to play against.

“Of course sometimes we want to go on the field as Crystal Palace and dominate possession and do well, but sometimes we can’t do it. We can’t do it because the (opposition) team is better or is doing it better than us, so we can’t do what we want.

“I saw the Arsenal game and I don’t see the Everton team only defending or trying to just stop Arsenal. Reputations sometimes are not right and I don’t want to judge a person just by a reputation.”

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