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.