BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Crystal Palace legend Julian Speroni has admitted that the Covid-19 pandemic forced him into retirement.
The South American stopper had 15 years with the Eagles, making 405 appearances, before being released in the summer of 2019.
Speroni won Palace’s Player of the Year award four times – including three in a row from 2008 until 2010 – but then completely dropped out of the spotlight after his SE25 playing days ended.
Recently he has been back helping out the club’s keepers at U23 and U18 level. He is starting his UEFA B coaching badge in July.
“I wanted to do so much – to go back to Argentina and spend some time with family and friends – but I had to postpone everything due to this covid situation,” said Speroni.
“I’ve tried not to get too involved with football, because I know once you get back into it full-time there are no weekends and it is full-on.
“I have a young family and I want to make the most of that. I want to enjoy them, because the kids grow up so quickly.
“We’ll see what opportunities are out there when I decide to go full-time.”
The connection to Palace is still there. Speroni’s son Thiago – also a goalkeeper – plays for the club’s U12 team.
“I’m at the training ground more than when I was a player,” said Speroni, a broad smile breaking across his face. “Because he trains three times a week, he has a game at the weekend and then I come in once a week with the U18s and U23s.
“I told him: ‘Are you sure you want to be a goalkeeper? Don’t you want to score some goals? Play up front and have some fun’. He said: ‘No, I want to be a goalkeeper’. I said: ‘Okay, it’s not easy but I’ll help you out’.
“He has been asking me to come for two or three years. I didn’t want to expose him to that yet. I know the pressure. You can’t help but notice that he is my son, he is going to carry the name.
“I wanted him to really fall in love with football. He was doing so well for his local club that I just wanted him to enjoy playing.
“I didn’t want to make it easy for him, so he was on trial for four months or so. He was in and out because of covid. They told him they wanted to keep him. But I said: ‘This is not the end of it – this is the beginning. You need to push, push, push – learn in every single training session and match’.
“At his age he needs to enjoy what he does but if he wants to do it properly then he has to focus and take it seriously.”
Speroni holds the appearance record for a goalkeeper at Palace and has also kept the most clean sheets – 112. He only played twice for Roy Hodgson’s side in the 2018-19 season.
“I was looking to carry on,” he said. “Fitness-wise I was feeling really, really good.
“I was hoping for an opportunity that would be a good challenge for me. I just didn’t want to go down the leagues too much. Once you have been in the Premier League, and even the Championship, you don’t want to be anywhere else.
“But also I didn’t want to move the family either. I was hoping to get somewhere close enough so I could stay at home and keep the kids in school.
“I’m not the kind of person who would be happy to leave the family behind and move somewhere else. I wouldn’t do that. I need to be with my family.
“Nothing came up at the start which interested me. I rejected a few things and then covid came and stopped everything completely. That kind of forced me into retirement, because I’m 42 now.
“It’s a shame. I could have played a couple more years, and I think Roy knew that as well.
“I just didn’t want to finish that way. I wanted to finish playing, but it didn’t happen for me in the end.
“I can’t complain. I had a great career and I’m proud of that. My last game was Tottenham at home [in the FA Cup], we won 2-0 and I got man of the match.
“The Premier League is so, so quick. As soon as you lose a bit of speed as an outfield player it is difficult. A goalkeeper can use their experience more – position wise – and get away with it a little bit more.
“If I was British I would have been the third choice somewhere!”
Palace fans will get the chance to appreciate Speroni’s excellence in When Eagles Dare, a five-part documentary on the club’s promotion to the Premier League in 2013, which is available on Amazon Prime Video from today.
It charts the Eagles’ journey from the brink of extinction to reaching the top-flight. Speroni kept clean sheets in all three play-off matches, including 120 minutes in the final against Watford.
“It’s one of the best seasons we ever had,” said Speroni. “That gave us the foundation that we can actually enjoy all this time in the Premier League now.
“I’ve got great memories. We had ups and downs but when you finally get that promotion we all wanted it is such an amazing feeling.
“I tell you what, I remember I was so completely mentally drained afterwards. We all met in a hotel, just for a chat and a drink. I just wanted to go home because I felt so tired. I had my family with me, we got in a taxi and I couldn’t wait to get in my bed.
“It’s the whole build-up that made me feel that way. The semi-final was quite tense as well. The importance of the game is huge and we had quite a long build up in terms of preparation. The final is also a long day. Everything takes time and energy out of you. The nerves come into play – you know what you’re playing for and want to be on the winners’ side.
“We were the underdogs against Brighton, particularly after a 0-0 at home. The way we played was incredible, all of the lads were really focused and had a desire. You could look them in the eye and see something special was about to happen.
“It was one of those games you don’t enjoy before but when the whistle goes at the end you are full of joy.”
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