Patrick Vieira has praised the continued commitment of Jean-Philippe Mateta after admitting it has been “challenging” for the loanee at Crystal Palace.
The forward scored his third goal for the club last weekend having been given the nod to play at Millwall despite links to St Etienne in the current transfer window.
Since Mateta moved to Selhurst Park last January on an 18-month loan deal from Mainz, he has started only six times but will return to the scene of one of his best moments in a Palace shirt on Friday when they take on rivals Brighton.
It was a backheeled effort at the Amex last season which saw the French striker open his account for the south Londoners, but Christian Benteke’s fine form in 2021 and the August arrival of Odsonne Edouard have further restricted opportunities for the 24-year-old.
Vieira, who saw Mateta net against Norwich last month and again at Millwall, said: “I think it’s been really challenging for him.
“Since he’s been at this football club, he’s not had that much chance to play. Since I arrived, with Christian and Edouard arriving, he had less time.
“But every time the team needed him to perform, he gave his best. He was rewarded by a couple of goals he scored, so he’s there, he’s with us, part of the team and the squad.
“He’s available, as anybody else, and after I have to make a decision, but he’s working really well every single day and making it really difficult for me to choose the front players.”
Mateta has struggled with the physicality of English football at times, initially under Roy Hodgson and it has been evident also this season, but when presented with chances during the last month the forward has started to show more promise.
“Physically I think he needed to get back to his best,” Vieira added.
“I think there are still a couple of steps to go, but to go through those steps, you need to play games.
“At the moment, he didn’t play a lot because I chose other players, but he has to be patient and wait for his time to play games.”
Michael Olise, who only turned 20 in December, is another who has needed to bide his time but looks likely to be handed a fourth start for the club on Friday following a dazzling display in a hostile atmosphere at The Den.
The ex-Reading attacker is averaging a goal every 58 minutes this season after being managed carefully by Vieira, who was a similar age when he first started to play in the Premier League.
He said: “Always I can use my experience to advise these young players, but at the end of the day it is about how much they want to improve and how much they want to fulfil their potential.
“We can only advise, guide and give them the support they need.
“After it is about the desire to fulfil that potential and that is what will take them to a different level.”