It is often heard around the vicinity of SE25 that Crystal Palace’s youth academy is one of the best in the country.
Due to the recent slump in form (in truth it’s lasted eight months barring a magnificent play-off campaign), some locals are pining for an exciting youth prospect to start over one of our lesser, but more experienced players. Fresh blood and fresh impetus may be good for the team and have a similar effect to Andros Townsend’s introduction to the England squad. However, is our cademy actually THAT good?
Firstly, on a general footballing level, a youth player won’t necessarily show more passion and fight for the cause any more than a so called ‘journeyman’, which older players are commonly misconstrued as. This misconception may come from a belief that because the players are in our youth academy, they may have a particularly strong affinity or support for the club. A lot of them don’t. Zaha even went on record to say that he was an avid Arsenal fan. Whereas Jason Puncheon supposedly does have an affinity for us but the team of preference has no correlation with the effort the player puts in, and their effectiveness.
Even boyhood Everton fan Jamie Carragher turned out to be a Liverpool legend!
The next reason that people believe academy players may try harder is as a result of their sheer desire to establish themselves as a footballer. This is nonsense. Professional players are precisely that, professional.
Of course they are dedicated, it’s their job to be, and they wouldn’t be at a Premier League club otherwise. Whether a player charges from striker to left back to pick up a ball he lost, or just idles on the wing languidly, is completely down to the style of the player, not their determination. Realistically, could you ever imagine Chamakh ever powering through a game like Jedinak when trying to break through at youth level? Of course not, it’s not in his natural style.
The argument that a youth player will work harder should be dispelled for these two reasons. This would mean that the only other logical reason to include a youth player in the first team would be if they are good enough, or more accurately, if they are better than the player they are replacing, and a lot of our Academy players simply won’t be.
Currently, there are five Palace graduates in Premier League squads, enjoying varying degrees of success.
The star is Victor Moses, a Europa League winner. Clyne is enjoying a great spell in a lean Southampton defence, and many tip him for a future England cap. Wayne Routledge’s career is finally coming to fruition in a fluid Swansea side. Wilfried Zaha hasn’t actually made a Premier League appearance yet, but he counts as Moyes is clearly mad for not playing ‘our Wilf’ and he has an England cap. Lastly, our current player Jonny Williams, who was unfortunately injured on international duty.
Lower league players of note include FA Cup winner Ben Watson, in-form Lewis Grabban and Sean Scannell. This represents modest success that makes me question why people think putting a current youth player in our side would be a conducive solution to our recent, but expected, woes. If we only have five current Premier League players from around ten years of production, why should one of them jump straight into the first team?
If you factor in that all these players emerged from us in the Championship, it seems absurd.
Compare us with Southampton. Not a massive club, albeit a large catchment area, and they’ve produced household names such as Bale, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain. This means that putting Luke Shaw into their first team was an educated decision, that has substance to back it up, and he has repaid that. When our academy reaches that standard, we can begin to request the new manager (whoever it may be) start with a youth team player rather than a ‘poor’ first-teamer.
The development squad and under-18’s haven’t enjoyed a blistering start to the season, in fact quite the opposite. In the loss to Exeter last week, only Kyle de Silva looked promising and this a large indictment on the academy as a whole. Not all the performances have been as lackadaisical and substandard, but it’s not as if the youth players are on the crest of a wave of confidence, and they can’t necessarily bring a winning attitude to an already depleted team. Additionally, the youth team aren’t competing against fabled academy’s, but the likes of Millwall. It’s preposterous for the suggestion to be made that any of these players are ready to be thrown in the deep end.
Surprisingly, given the tone of the article, it’s not all doom and gloom. Historically, it’s likely that one of the current youth team will make our first team at some stage. Possibly not in the Premier League, but when the inevitable occurs, it could open the door for the player. My personal prediction for this spot is Reise Allassani (previously profiled on this site) although players with huge potential have faded so nothing can be set in stone.
The main intention of this article wasn’t actually to be negative (believe it or not!), but just to provide a realistic argument against some fans views that it may be worth installing a youth player in the first team.
The popular terrace opinion of “he can’t do any worse” has obvious flaws. For every Moses, there’s a Bostock, an Ashley-Paul Robinson, a Kieran Djilali and Lee Hills. It will take time to find that one Premier League standard player and there’s no point experimenting and putting a Djilali in the team when points are at a premium.