Mikele Leigertwood became Iain Dowie’s first permanent acquisition for Crystal Palace when he joined from Wimbledon in January 2004 for a £155,000 fee. In the two or so years since that move his Palace performances have fluctuated, encapsulating the sublime and the ridiculous, and pretty much everything in between.
Supporter adulation has perhaps understandably not always followed Leigertwood, but what is inexplicable is the fact that some “fans” would consider booing one of Palace’s most honest and hardest working players. The development of young players can certainly frustrate at times. But Palace fans need to ask themselves whether attacking the likes of Leigertwood, Tom Soares and Ben Watson is constructive to those individuals and the team as a whole. While there are undoubtedly technical rough edges in need of refinement, the progress that Leigertwood has made since he became a Palace player should be crystal clear for even the most blinkered, small-minded fan to notice.
Having joined Palace as a centre back Leigertwood underwent a successful transfiguration and spent the majority of the 2004/2005 as a defensive midfielder. It is at full back however that two of his most accomplished displays have been witnessed. The 1-1 draw against Arsenal in November 2004 can rightly be remembered with fondness by Palace fans. Inspired by tales of Muhammad Ali, Palace refused to be cowed by reputation and produced a display full of fight and determination.
Leigertwood made his first Premiership appearance as a 23rd minute substitute in that game. There are pivotal moments in a sportsman’s career when a performance is needed to justify expectation and potential. As Leigertwood took the field the tension emanating from the Palace supporters was palpable – would he rise to the occasion or crumble under pressure? Leigertwood’s answer was immediate. Fearsome in the tackle, fearless in possession, and adventurous when opportunity permitted, he allayed any fans’ fears with an emphatic display that day.
Against Cardiff on Saturday Leigertwood again played at full-back, and again excelled. Aki Riihilahti was the official man of the match, but Leigertwood can feel proud of a dynamic display. Whether he can carve a successful positional niche for himself remains to be seen - the curse of the utility man has stifled many a footballing career in the past.
frighteningly forceful tackler, with a developing skill set and passing range, Leigertwood definitely has the physical and technical qualities to progress. With a contract that expires this summer it is unclear whether that progress will be realised at Palace.