'I love fans singing about me' - Mateta on cult-hero status

The ex-France Under-21s forward - who picked up both of the club’s player of the season awards - believes he just needed a chance to show what he could do.

Crystal Palace’s Jean-Philippe Mateta is one of the most in-form players in the Premier League and has gone from club cult hero to a recognised lethal finisher.

The Palace striker has scored 10 goals in his last 12 games with only Chelsea’s Cole Palmer, who is nominated for Premier League player of the season, scoring more in the same period.

The 26-year-old has been rejuvenated under new manager Oliver Glasner and with his impressive goalscoring statistics is starting to grab the attention of the wider footballing world.

Mateta made 29 Premier League appearances last season but started just six times, scoring two goals.

This season, he has 13 goals in 24 starts and the best goals to shots ratio (36%) of any of the Premier League’s top 20 strikers. His shot accuracy (72%) is second only to Phil Foden (75%) in that same list.

And the ex-France Under-21s forward – who picked up both of the club’s player of the season awards – believes he just needed a chance to show what he could do.

“I [had to] just keep playing hard and just be ready and now they give me my chance,” Mateta told BBC Sport.

“When you are on the bench you can show nothing. You know in the Premier League you can come on for two minutes, five minutes – it’s hard.”

Mateta said he has always been a forward that needed fewer chances to score.

“This is one of my qualities,” he added. “I’m happy that everyone starts to see now. I’m tired that only the players in training can see this.”

Mateta has formed an excellent attacking partnership with Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze and the Eagles are unbeaten when the trio have been named in the starting line-up by Glasner.

The striker has two years remaining on his contract and the club hold an option to extend for a further year, while early talks have started over a new deal.

He is a popular figure in the Palace dressing room and said the old-fashioned trend of tucking his shirt into his shorts during games is just about amusing team-mates and not superstitious, as some fans have speculated.

“It’s more fun for me when people start talking about this,” he adds.

“I’m a guy that doesn’t take everything seriously. I started football like this [with his shirt tucked in]. I said ‘let me do it again’.”

Mateta “loves” his goal celebration – where he kicks the corner flag as Palace fans shout ‘boom’ – and says it is inspired by Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“I’m always happy when they sing about me. I’m a striker, I need the fans behind me. I’m a guy who likes to be funny and speak with the fans.”

Despite all the attention on Olise, Eze and January signing Adam Wharton, it could be argued that no player has improved more than Mateta this season.

Asked what Glasner has done to help his game, Mateta puts it down to the coach’s “winner” mentality.

“When the training is not like he wants to he says ‘Come on lads, we need to do better. We are not where we need to be. I need more from you’.

“He doesn’t care about big teams. Liverpool he said ‘we go there for the win’, even Manchester City when we lost he said ‘guys, we’re here to win’.”

Mateta’s late-season form has got him “dreaming” about a call-up to France’s Euro 2024 squad.

“It’s in my head,” he adds. “When I’m training, when I’m waking up. It’s just about performing with Palace and one day [France head coach] Didier Deschamps, if he can think about me, I can help him to do whatever.”

Even if Mateta does not receive the call, he’s got supporters excited about what could happen next season.

Original article published 14.05.2024 on the BBC Sport website.

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