When Crystal Palace announced the signing of Jefferson Lerma on a free transfer from Bournemouth on Thursday afternoon, they did so with a dimly lit social media video of a pair of boxing gloves on a stall.
Referencing the jab in the face Lerma was given by Palace’s Joachim Andersen last month, it also summed up the player himself: a grafter with a bite. Since making his Bournemouth debut in September 2018, Lerma’s 51 yellow cards are the most of any player in the Premier League or Championship. It’s fair to say, he doesn’t hide from responsibility.
The experienced 28-year-old Colombia international has signed a three-year deal at Selhurst Park and becomes Palace’s first signing of the summer before the manager — be it Roy Hodgson or someone new — has been decided. The midfield needed bolstering whoever stands in the dugout.
Patrick Vieira’s success as Palace manager in the 2021/22 season was built from the ideal blend of creativity, energy and discipline provided by his established midfield trio of James McArthur, Cheikhou Kouyate and on-loan Chelsea player Conor Gallagher.
Gallagher was back at Stamford Bridge this season, Kouyate at Nottingham Forest, and McArthur — who has since left — missed most of the campaign due to ongoing injury and fitness issues. Vieira’s midfield was often absent, and he was sacked in March with Palace just three points above the relegation zone. It needed Hodgson’s remarkable return to jolt Palace into life and lift them to comfortable safety.
The only Palace midfielder this season with a near-certain prospect of starting next term is Cheick Doucoure, the 23-year-old who arrived last summer from Lens and made more interceptions across the Premier League campaign than every player bar Declan Rice.
Lerma is of a similar profile to Doucoure — a battling destructor who can both stand by or stand in for his new team-mate next season. To have a midfield base so defensively assured would give Palace’s livewire attackers licence to flood forward and express themselves.
Jefferson has a message for you all. pic.twitter.com/bM8OZ89p4n
— Crystal Palace F.C. (@CPFC) June 8, 2023
It was Lerma’s ability to dispossess the opponent and move Bournemouth up the pitch that made him such a fans’ favourite at the Vitality Stadium, while he also boasts a fierce shot from range. He scored five league goals this term.
While Palace will need a more tempo-setting midfielder in the mould of Jorginho, securing the services of Bournemouth’s player of the season, for free, marks a strong start to the Eagles’ summer.