Michael Olise: A star turn sealed with a smile

There are times when the mystique that seems to surround Michael Olise falls away. The emotion then comes pouring out, the celebration no longer subdued, his face illuminated by a beaming smile and, in this case, a run down the touchline to hug his Crystal Palace manager Oliver Glasner.

He had too many reasons not to hide his feelings. That embrace arrived after Olise’s second brilliant goal in a standout performance during a 4-0 win over Manchester United; the young Frenchman mesmerised a woeful defence throughout.

In his last 13 Premier League starts, the 22-year-old has 14 goal contributions — nine goals, five assists — and in his last seven league starts, he has now scored seven times.

That lends itself to asking what could have been and what might yet be for Olise and Palace.

A rare display of emotion was written across his face last June in Romania during France’s 1-0 win against Norway, he’d scored the goal, in the group stage of the Under-21 European Championship. After stretching for the ball, he reached to his hamstring, then rolled his hands to signal to the bench that he needed replacing. Olise held his shirt to his face as the tears flowed. The injury was so severe he didn’t make his first start of this season until late November. 

Yet on Monday night, that disappointment could not have been further from his mind.

United were dominated by the slick, sharp interplay from Olise and Eberechi Eze which has helped to make Palace so enjoyable to watch, so efficient and effective in attack under Glasner, since his appointment 11 weeks ago.

olise touch map

Their partnership is burgeoning and had the crowd at Selhurst Park enthralled again.

There was once a fear that Palace fans had been deprived of the opportunity to see much of Olise in full flow following his move from Reading, then of the Championship, in summer 2021; that his injury problems would be too frequent and returning to his best too great of a challenge before a widely-anticipated transfer away.

But with a new manager and a refreshing approach, those worst fears have not come to pass.

It may be Olise at his best for an abridged period, not nearly as long as everyone at Palace would prefer, but he has left plenty to cherish, even if these are his final appearances for the club.

Olise’s first goal of the night came out of nowhere. He controlled a throw-in, feinted to embarrass Casemiro before driving into space and shooting low beyond Andre Onana from the edge of the penalty area. His second, though, was a product of a conversation with his manager as much as his own talent.

Cutting inside from the right, as he did to great effect all game, he fired past Onana at the near post — where ordinarily he would aim for the far one — before making a point of racing over to celebrate with Glasner.

Michael Olise, Crystal Palace

Olise scores his second goal against Manchester United (Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

It was a moment which encapsulated both his individual brilliance and also the improvement in the squad and the attention to detail that has been applied since the Austrian replaced Roy Hodgson in February.



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“We spoke after the Fulham game (the 1-1 draw just over a week ago),” Glasner said. “He was disappointed because he had three or four shots blocked, and some were straight at the goalkeeper. Very often, he shoots far post and I said, ‘Maybe try the near post, the goalkeeper might be surprised’. He shot at the near post (last night) and scored the goal, so it was because (of that).”

Palace might have been in a completely different situation today had Olise remained injury-free for anything like the full season but he has bounced back from that lay-off with maturity and determination. The focus and tunnel vision that help him terrorise defences have led him to a point where his future is once again under major discussion.

Inevitably, that focus will be on club level and what might happen in the coming transfer window, but Olise’s international ambitions should dominate the debate in the first instance.

With only two games of Palace’s season remaining, even the form he has demonstrated since Glasner’s arrival may not be sufficient to force his way into the France squad going to Euro 2024 next month. But there ought to be a conversation, at the very least, about whether, a year on from disappointment in a European Championship at under-21 level, he might be given a chance to continue what he started, but this time at senior level.

It may have come too soon to win Didier Deschamps’ favour, especially given the quality and choice at the France coach’s disposal and the risk of picking an uncapped player who has only made seven under-21s appearances, while the Olympic Games on home soil in July and August may also hamper any hopes of a call-up to that Euros squad.

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Olise is expected to be in contention for France’s Olympic squad this summer (Flaviu Buboi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

England manager Gareth Southgate, in attendance on Monday night, might have wished Olise was not minded to represent France, or he might have made overtures to entice him to represent the country of his birth instead.

But it is with the under-23s, in an Olympics played on French turf, that Olise’s summer involvement is most likely. Strong performances there, should he be selected, and an injury-free tournament may, however, further pique the interest in him at domestic level.

There is no reason to be concerned over the length of Olise’s contract, given the new four-year deal signed in August after he came close to joining Chelsea. A release clause will unquestionably entice many clubs again this summer.

Manchester United could conceivably be one of those (although Olise would be more drawn to their neighbours City, in whose academy he spent the 2016-17 season before joining Reading) — particularly after this chastening experience of just how effective he can be.

How much impact on his future will those injuries have, particularly if clubs are more financially prudent? Combine potential concerns there with the adoration he receives in south London, and their revival and renewed ambition under Glasner, and Palace may just hold out some hope, however slim, that they can persuade him to stay for one more season.

Olise is destined for the top. It is a matter of when, not if.

That when is what will be on Palace’s minds.

Crystal Palace’s remaining matches: Saturday, May 11 — Wolves (away); Sunday, May 19 — Aston Villa (home).

(Top photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

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