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If Cesc Fabregas didnít win the Champions League he would still be highly rated and wealthy Premiership star with an outstanding season and world on his feet. If Steven Gerarld didnít lift the FA Cup trophy, he would still be one of the worldís best midfielders who has won every silver wear there is to be celebrated at club level. Winning or losing finals would hurt but wouldnít affect their everyday lives, because they would still be successful and go on living and playing top football.
If we donít win the Championship playoffs, I could have to travel to Burnley again. At least I would be without an agreed work for next year. English football is blessed for having massive games to come in a short period of time. These are very different to Championship playoffs, though. All promotion and relegation battles are not about trophies, fame and fortunes but about playing for your lifestyle and future. It is what comes in front of you everyday.
If I go to eat in a top restaurant I expect the chef wonít serve me burned beans on toast that I get at home. If I hire construction workers I expect more from them than just being able to say a difference between a nail and a hammer. Most people expects Crystal Palace to get promotion this season. Including ourselves. Iíve been constantly told we will get up because we have done it before. ďBeen there, done thatĒ is a weak currency, though, when it matters. Like a cameleon being Premiership worthy changes its faces and past experience and merits wonít definitely make a difference to a required face value now. We might be even perceived as different gravy to the team that promoted last time but even that wonít help us on a pitch. And if we donít meet the raised expectations, in all levels directions will inevitably be re-valued.
Does all this make ball burning on your feet? Is the pressure squeezing your bladder? Are you scared? For me there is no greater feeling of existence than having lot of things dear to me in the line of a battle. Suddenly I havenít worried about personal problems, upsetting circumstances, next season or any dodgy construction works. I donít know what Iím doing and where Iíll be living in three weeks from now but I love this tension and the pressure. The bigger the game, the stakes, the gap between success and failure, the better it gets. With Crystal Palaceís history you can expect it is never dull until the last moment. My expectations for the games include also:
1. I expect small margins
There is not a great amount of difference on ability with the four teams. Everyone is easily capable of beating each other. What really matters is winning the margins. One bounce or a miss kick can be crucial. Itís very different to a normal league game where there are always room for this and that in the long season. Now there is only this, no second chances or time to put it right.
2. I expect pressure revealing the character
Some people hide, some rise for the occasion. You can sense miles away the mood of nervousness and fear. Big games require personality rather than ability. Some have it, some are just trying to survive it.
3. I expect distractions
Phone just doesnít stop ringing. Suddenly every journalist wants to make a story or view to the games. After not giving much attention to us, now on the gates of the Premiership they demand to follow every step and think they can make a deep analyse. Itís wise to get away from that everyday media hassle as it is from turning into ticket office. When we played Burnley on November I couldnít get even my friends anywhere near the Selhurst Park, but now in every street corner there seem to be available and willing people to come to enjoy the big occasions with all of their friends.
4. I expect itís not about football
Letís face it, the games are probably not going to be classics with great football. The importance of results will probably make it more cautious and nervy game where everyone is avoiding mistakes. That includes the approach to the game. So if you like attractive football you probably better stay home and watch Barcelona from television instead.
What I donít expect, is most people understanding what is the gap between winning and losing the playoffs. Sure people can relate to difference of going to watch Rooney at Old Trafford than anyone at Turf Moor. However, the life changing professional, emotional and economical importance to individuals and clubs involved are not just having a carneval around a cup final. After final whistle, we canít just turn off the television or go home, we have to deal with the consequences everyday for years to come. Whatever they are Iíll deal with them later, but now Iím just expecting we will be prepared the best possible way we can. I expect another mind blowing playoffs and that we are going to get whatever we deserve from it. I expect that is going to be good. So Fabregas and Gerarld can fearfully expect facing us next season.