Marouane Chamakh: The Eagle emerging from the shadows

Sidelined at Arsenal before joining Crystal Palace, the Moroccan striker tells Jack Pitt-Brooke how Tony Pulis turned him into a fans' favourite and key figure in the successful fight against relegation

Tony Pulis's Crystal Palace miracle has been made up of lots of little changes and improvements, none of them more impressive than those involving Marouane Chamakh.

When Pulis took over at Selhurst Park in November, he was expected to drag the team back to basics in an attempt to avoid relegation from the Premier League. However, instead he has built a side to make the most of Chamkah's selfless intelligence. Trusted to play just behind Cameron Jerome up front, Chamakh, reinfused with the faith of his manager and fans, has started to play his best football since his first few months in England, after Arsène Wenger signed him for Arsenal from Bordeaux in 2010.


"I cannot explain how I feel," the Moroccan – buoyant and enjoying his football again – tells me when we meet at Canary Wharf. "I feel very, very good. Because I didn't play too much in Arsenal, I played the first six months and after, when Robin [van Persie] came back, I didn't play. And at West Ham too [where he went on loan], I played maybe two or three games, no more. I am very, very happy now."

It has been a memorable few months for Chamakh, and a testament to the transformative power of confidence, form and belief. For this he is very grateful to Pulis, whom he backed to win manager of the year for his remarkable rescue job. "It was not easy for him because he came in November and we were bottom," remembers Chamakh. "He maybe only knew one player, Cameron Jerome. He didn't have all of his staff either and it was very hard for him."

Chamakh celebrating a goal against West Ham Chamakh celebrating a goal against West Ham (Getty Images)
But Pulis, in one of the great managerial feats of recent years, shook Palace up and drove them up the table. "We really worked differently with the new manager," Chamakh explains. "We followed his rules. He didn't change a lot, just a little bit but it really worked for us."

Only Chelsea have conceded fewer goals since Pulis took over, and that is down to rigorous work on the training ground. "We defend really well under him, but when we have the ball, we can kill the opposition," Chamakh says.

"We worked much more without the ball. From Tuesday we were already working for the game on the Saturday. We would really focus on the game, it gave the confidence to all the players. It would be crazy before the game because we would all give 200 per cent. We'd give everything."

While Pulis's focus is on the collective, he is also fiercely supportive of individuals and brings the very best out of each of them. "The manager is fantastic," enthuses Chamakh. "He would talk differently to every player, he found something in every player. He is very good at managing the players. We don't have the same players as other clubs, that is why the gaffer takes 100 per cent from us."

Results and performances soon turned around, and Palace stayed up with almost surprising ease. There have been eye-catching displays against the big teams – not least the dramatic 3-3 draw with Liverpool on Monday – but for Chamakh the most important wins came when they were still involved in the relegation dog-fight.

"I think the best result was not against Chelsea, Liverpool, but the game against Norwich, West Brom, and Cardiff. They were really important because after we won these games, they were really good points."

Chamakh has scored five goals but his contribution within Pulis's unit has been excellent. Almost functioning as a withdrawn target man, he can dominate physically as well as linking up Palace's attacks.

"It is different for me," Chamakh says. "Now I have the ball in front of me. It is different but I like it." After two years on the fringes, the striker relishes the chance to be this heavily involved.

"If you say to play right-back, I am going to play right-back, because I want to play. I know I am not going to be good at right-back, but I want to play. If the gaffer says 'go and play here', I cannot say no, I really want to play, so wherever he tells me to play, I will play. Because I really like football, I really like playing."

That, ultimately, is the reason it did not work out for Chamakh at Arsenal. "That is why I had to leave Arsenal," he says. "It was too difficult to stay and play maybe five minutes every three games, or sometimes not playing. I think I made a really good decision, I am proud of that choice."

The fans at Selhurst Park, the loudest Chamakh has ever heard, have been impressed. "In England, the most important thing is to give everything," he adds, and his supporters appreciate that.

"It is crazy," adds Chamakh, recalling his encounters with Palace's away support on trains back from Manchester and Liverpool. "Sometimes when we play away I have travelled back by train with the fans. We were talking for, like, two hours and I can see how they love this team and this club. It is crazy how much they love the team – they are talking about the gaffer, the players, about everything and they don't stop. They even invited me for a drink."

The bond is such that Chamakh, out of contract this summer, would love to sign a new deal at Selhurst Park. "That is my priority," he says, "because I am at the end of my contract, and my priority is to stay at Crystal Palace for one or two more years. If not, it would be to stay in England."

Before the next season starts, Chamakh is going to spend some time in Agadir, working in his brother Yassin's restaurant, Amelou. "It is fun and I am happy there because there are now a lot of English people in the south of Morocco," Chamakh said. "It is nice because they are all happy to see me.

"The people sometimes cannot believe it is me and they have to ask. After that we take pictures and it is nice."

sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor