Over the last two or three years, I’ll openly admit to keeping a close eye on Palace academy winger Andre Coker’s progress but yesterday, it was confirmed that the 20-year-old had left the club for Maidstone on a permanent basis.
Whilst it’s bordering on impossible to get a true steer on how a young player will develop as he edges his way through the age-bands and towards the first-team, I had always felt as though Coker had a fantastic chance of making waves for Palace as a fully-fledged pro.
Known to be quick, skillful and extremely attacking-minded, there was a spell when the then teenager seemed to be scoring one, two or three goals every week at U16 or U18 level, leaving me to wait and watch on patiently in the hope of seeing him make the jump into the first-team ranks.
Call it romantic if you wish, but in the years I’ve supported Palace (I’m 29) I’ve seen the likes of Victor Moses, Sean Scannell and most importantly Wilfried Zaha power their way onto the wings from within the academy set-up; a glut of talent that perhaps gave me a false sense of hope over Andre’s chances of following in that trio’s footsteps.
You need only look back to the fondness Palace fans have for the likes of John Salako and Vince Hilaire to be reminded of the relationship the Selhurst faithful have had with dazzling wide-men over the last 30 or 40 years but for every new star, there are dozens who never get the opportunity to make a mark on the biggest of stages.
Given the financial incentives offered by Premier League survival, it’s little wonder that managers seldom throw academy lads into the first-team on a whim, leaving the likes of Coker with little choice but to seek an extension of their footballing education elsewhere before the chance of making it in the professional ranks passes them by altogether.
Yes, the emergence of Aaron Wan-Bissaka as a breakout star in SE25 will have given hope to the dozens of youngsters on our books at academy level but in Coker’s case, it’s time to close the book on this particular chapter. I for one hope to see him making his way up the Football League pyramid in years to come.