The Academy Is Palace’s Biggest Asset – Should It Be Our Main Priority?

1 Posted by - October 10, 2018 - Daily Thoughts, News

With next to nothing going on domestically thanks to the current international break, I’d like to take a few hundred words to discuss the importance of our academy, both in the present day and the future. 

It’s no secret that the Palace faithful look upon the production of youth players as one of the key characteristics which set us apart from the rest and right now, we have two shining examples of our youth development programme starting week in, week out, in the shape of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Wilfried Zaha. 

Both men have come through the ranks in SE25 and are now bona fide Premier League stars, leading me to wonder how successful we’d be if we placed a larger chunk of our annual budget into the development of young talent. Yes, the club are rightly proud of the work they already do and have seen their efforts bring through many first-team regulars over the years but in a landscape where transfer fees are spiralling higher and higher with each campaign that passes, surely the smart move would be to refine our own talent with more vigour than ever before, rather than being forced to scour the market for players who are only ever likely to be sold for fees vastly higher than their actual worth?

Whilst Zaha is undoubtedly Palace’s most valuable asset in the current climate, you could argue that Aaron Wan-Bissaka (given his impressive start, age and recent decision to sign a long-term contract) is now the club’s second most highly-priced player. Put quite simply, in the above pair, the Eagles have produced players who are worth more than they could ever afford on the open market. We could pat the club’s staff on the back and carry on in the same style but surely, the net profit we’ve made transfer-wise on Zaha and Wan-Bissaka points towards a long-term opportunity for differentiation?

I’m not suggesting that we simply throw a huge number of the current crop in at the deep end in the forlorn hope of them all coming up swimming; my overriding suggestion is that we devote a greater percentage of our resources to youth development moving forward, given the huge financial incentives on offer when things fall into place. Admittedly, the likes of Nya Kirby and James Daly may go on to follow in the footsteps of other academy graduates but if we were to ring-fence an extra few million pounds a year to the coaching and development of our young talent, you’d hope the benefits would speak for themselves with a far busier production line in five or ten years’ time. 

I should be clear that I’m not advocating an abandonment of the transfer market in favour of a solely internal recruitment process in this piece, more a recalibration of where our true, lasting priorities lie. This of course requires a management team who are happy to blood unproven young players on a semi-regular basis, which as we all know, sounds far more straightforward in theory than it is in practice but given the love-affair Palace fans have always had with the club’s academy, I’d suggest you’ll struggle to find a more willing audience than the one who turns up at Selhurst Park every other weekend. 

I will always be grateful for the investment the current owners and those before them have put into the club’s development of youth; that goes without saying but moving forward, is there a serious discussion to be had about the proportion of our annual income which is dedicated to its continued improvement? I’d certainly like to think so. 

South London is rightly seen as one of the true hot-beds of young footballing talent for socio-economic reasons for too detailed to break down here, with Palace serving as willing beneficiaries. Would you be in favour of a shift which sees it become the club’s main priority? Given the success we’ve already had, coupled with the ever more mind-boggling fees being paid for players, it seems like a no-brainer to me. 

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  • tzcar October 10, 2018 - 7:17 am Reply

    i agree with every word you,ve printed.these young lads come through schooled by palace,and automatically they want to do well for our also means useless players like schlupp,would,nt take up a first team berth.

  • Gordon October 10, 2018 - 7:50 am Reply

    I’d also like to see our academy strengthened but I suspect it’s already costing a packet to run in terms of the facilities & personnel required. Given our huge South London catchment area, we ought to be able to attract & nurture a great deal of young talent. Sadly we’ve only produced a relatively small number of gems even if some of those gems have turned out to be top quality.
    I haven’t yet worked out the likely effect of the current FIFA proposal to restrict the number of players clubs can send out on loan each year. This could potentially limit the scope for PL clubs to offer competitive experience for its academy graduates. I’m not sure if this might encourage clubs to use their youngsters rather than lose them (by having to sell them to develop at a lower level). It would though stop the Chelsea’s and Tottenham’s of the football world hoovering up & stockpiling all the young talent for investment purposes and so might prevent or at least discourage the Bostock scenario which undermines the advantage to a club of having an academy system.

  • Jose Fonte, baby? Jose Fonte, oh, oh, oh October 10, 2018 - 8:04 am Reply

    Completely agree that we shouldn’t just throw the entire u18s/23s into the deep end but there needs to be a clear pathway from the academy to the first team. Looking at all of our academy graduates this decade, they have come through necessity/desperation rather than policy of promoting youth.

    Zaha, Moses, Scannell, Clyne and Williams (and to a lesser extent Hills, Cornley, Da Silva, Cadogan and Dijali also making appearances) all got their chance when the club was struggling financially and youngsters had to be bought in to fill the numbers and sell the better ones on for a profit.

    With AWB, he was about to join a conference club (possibly Maidstone same as Coker and Phillips – r) in Jan – which would have resulted in him being released in the summer- until injuries meant he got his chance. For years people have lamented Ward’s form and Kelly’s inability to play as a fullback yet a talent like AWB only got his chance due to injuries, nothing to do with him being earmarked or being deemed good enough.

    In the years in between, only Boateng and Kaikai were given a chance which was limited to sub and league cup appearances. If you look at Innis, he had to wait 6 years to go from making the bench for the 1st team to actually getting on the pitch.

    Of the current academy crop, Kirby, Daly, Flanigan, McGregor, Lumeka, Woods and Lokilo all seem to merit a chance based on u23 form but none have been given a chance and most have left on loan to try and get games.

    Completely agree the transfer market is still needed but it would be nice to see players be given a chance as squad players rather than waste fees and wages on dead wood like Mutch, Lee, Adebeyor Youngsters have the faith of the crowd, are cheaper and tend to care more than mercenaries like Mutch. We just need to give them a chance.

  • Caroline TOO October 10, 2018 - 8:14 am Reply

    I’m not sure that money is the problem. Shortage of land to build an indoor pitch is what is stalling our progress to having a top tier academy

  • JRB October 10, 2018 - 8:34 am Reply

    South London catchment? I never see Palace outreach up where it matters in Southwark and Lambeth, think Camberwell, Kennington, Battersea even. In the long run we have given ground up here to the Chelsea’s and even Fulhams and Millwalls when they have been doing well. Spend money on outreach behind the ‘South London’ marketing, and put down stronger roots I think in the inner city, southside to the river. We have been becoming more Croydon than South London. When I was growing up it wasn’t a given that Croydon was even in London. But you have to stay in the premier anyway because otherwise you just get into Bostock situations and end up subsidising bigger clubs.

    • Jose Fonte, baby? Jose Fonte, oh, oh, oh October 10, 2018 - 10:24 am Reply

      If you look at players like RLC, Tammy Abraham, the Chalobahs, Emile Smith-Rowe, Jake Clarke-Salter, Joe Gomez, who have gone onto play for England teams or in the Premier League, they are all south London natives who joined other academies.

      A lot of untapped talent and missed opportunities, recently read that Brighton approach more local school and junior teams than Palace which is dreadful.

    • Gordon October 10, 2018 - 3:43 pm Reply

      Yes, inner city, but yes, Croydon & all the south London boroughs, and yes, Surrey, Kent & even parts of Berkshire. We are the only PL club in this huge area.

  • Eric The Ninja October 10, 2018 - 10:56 am Reply

    It really is obvious. I don’t understand how the staff are assessing the youth players in terms of readiness for first team football when they didn’t rate AWB above Ward. I feel like we’ve all been saying this for ages.

    • admin October 10, 2018 - 11:04 am Reply

      It’s great to see so much debate (and agreement) with the article.

      We all love to see lads coming through the academy route, hopefully there are more in the years to follow.

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