But Vieira was sacked on Friday with the Eagles mired in the type of relegation dogfight they were supposed to have outgrown, and playing a brand of football as uninspiring and toothless as anything served up by his recent predecessors.
Palace chairman Steve Parish was reluctant to dismiss the 46-year-old but felt he had no choice following a dismal run of form since the turn of the year, with Palace winless in 11 League games and three points above the drop zone with 11 more to play.
The timing of Vieira’s dismissal leaves Sunday’s ominous visit to champions-elect Arsenal as a free-hit and should give the new manager the international break to get settled.
Parish did not trust Vieira to take charge of the eight remaining six-pointers against the other clubs in relegation trouble, but the Frenchman can feel aggrieved that Palace’s winless run has come exclusively against teams above them in the table, including games against five of the ‘big six’ and Manchester United twice.
Vieira was named as Roy Hodgson’s successor in summer 2021 following roles with Manchester City’s academy, their feeder club New York City FC and French side Nice, and tasked with modernising Palace’s style of play to a more possession-based game.
After a rocky start, Palace beat Spurs 3-0 to kickstart last season and earned points away at both of Vieira’s former clubs in October 2021, with a 2-2 draw at Arsenal followed by a landmark 2-0 win over eventual-champions City.
This time last year, Palace were in the midst of a seven-game unbeaten run, including a 0-0 draw with City, a 4-0 win over Everton in the FA Cup quarter-final and a 3-0 thrashing of Arsenal, as Vieira established himself as one of the finest up-and-coming coaches in the game. They eventually finished 12th and reached the FA Cup semi-final, losing to Chelsea.
This season, though, Palace have failed to kick-on and they have won just twice in the League since early November, away victories at West Ham and Bournemouth. Their last win at Selhurst Park was in October.
Many Palace fans will share Parish’s view that a change was needed, although most feel the blame for such dismal form lies as much with the owners as Vieira
A 4-0 home reverse by Spurs at the start of the year was among the results to prompt Vieira to change his style, reverting to a more cautious approach in a bid to tighten up defensively, which has blunted their attack.
They went three straight League games without a shot on target — the first team to do so since Opta began recording the data in the 2003-04 season — before Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat at rivals Brighton, prompting Vieira to call on his players to adapt a “new mindset” in the final third.
Vieira has been hampered by misfiring strikers, Odsonne Edouard and Jean-Philippe Mateta, but they have lacked proper service, and the coach has not managed to get the best from talented forwards Wilfried Zaha, Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze.
Despite encouraging showings by Cheick Doucoure, Vieira has also struggled to create a functioning midfield since loanee Conor Gallagher returned to Chelsea in the summer, while their defence has been prone to costly lapses.
There are few players who have really improved under his management, although he has helped Marc Guehi into the England squad.
Many Palace fans will share Parish’s view that a change was needed, although most feel the blame for such dismal form lies as much with the owners as Vieira. The club are the lowest-spenders in the Premier League this season and their lack of investment in January, when they desperately needed reinforcements, suggests they hoped to muddle through the rest of the campaign.
Vieira has pointedly said it was unfair to compare them to Brighton, Fulham and Brentford, all of whom have kicked-on in the way Palace were supposed to this season, because they have been more ambitious in the transfer market — and he had a point.
The question now for Parish and sporting director Dougie Freedman is whether to turn to another coach with progressive principles or seek a firefighter to guarantee the club’s top-flight status, leaving Palace at a crossroads.