Academy Dilemma For All Clubs

Despite the game on Saturday ending in a draw, it contained a bit of history as Hiram Boateng was substituted onto the pitch at the Liberty Stadium to make his league debut for Palace.

This was the first league debut by any Palace academy graduate in the Premier League in this current stint, with Kyle de Silva being the last to make the step into the first team, four years and eighteen days before.

Twenty year old Boateng should be allowed to build on this brief cameo with more minutes in future matches. This stage of development is highly important for any young footballer as they can either stagnate and not progress as well as expected, or the player can adjust quickly and fulfill their potential.

The latter can only really happen with game time in league or cup games. Going on loan is a decent way to boost match experience but there comes a time when you have to move up a level. Boateng went to Plymouth Argyle and had a successful loan spell but it is a completely different world to the dizzy heights of the Premier League.

The Tottenham cup game is the perfect time for Pardew to blood Boateng into the first team set-up a little bit more. It is an important match with Palace only two rounds from Wembley, but with the midfield injury crisis deepening, it might be worth it. As long as he is surrounded by regular first-teamers, he should have no excuses and it will give a clearer picture of whether he is going to sink or swim at the top level.

Of course, it is harsh judging a player on one performance but the best players step up to the plate and seize their opportunities, which is what Boateng and the other young players must do when they are called upon.

The first test for Boateng was a relatively tough one, coming on in a match where Palace could simply not afford to lose, and he got through that unscathed. A bit rough around the edges, but it looks like he has all the attributes to make it.

Why is it only now that he is getting a slight chance?

It is a reflection of the Premier League. The way that the top division in England has become more money based and corporate driven means there is no room to make a mistake, or it can be punished in a financial way. Losing a couple of matches can see a team slide down the table, and this is money lost in itself. Relegation would be catastrophic with the £5.1 billion television deal coming into play, so there is simply no room for error.

This is why known entities will always be favoured over the likes of Boateng. They are a safe bet when they are playing and are unlikely to impact on the team in too much of a negative way. If an academy player starts and gets overpowered by either the occasion or opposition, it is like playing with ten men.

Conversely, Boateng could be an improvement on what we already have. We just will not know until he is tested.

Furthermore, there is a frustration around this issue on my behalf when players like Patrick Bamford are getting minutes over an academy prospect. Not just for Palace, but in the Premier League. Why should lesser clubs nurture the bigger clubs talent for them?

Yes, Bamford was a terrific player in the Championship but it became apparent very quickly that he just was not up to it, yet he still stole the odd appearance from one of our own youngsters. If none of them are nowhere near good enough, then that is fair enough, but I find this hard to believe, otherwise why are they still on our books?

Chelsea, the parent club of Bamford, are among the worst for not developing young players correctly. They stockpile so many of them, and ship them out on loan to all kinds of teams that it becomes impossible to judge who is good enough and who is not. There are just too many. They poach a lot of young players and simply hope that one of them becomes a gem overnight. This is not productive for the player, and it can actually halt development if not given a chance.

When Chelsea were doing terribly earlier in the season, although they have picked up slightly now, would have hurt them to drop the an under-performing Matic or Fabregas and try Loftus-Cheek? He could not have done much worse than those two were, but still his game time was very limited. He looks the most likely to break into their first team but the fact that he did not get a proper opportunity at that time is testament to the fact that the Premier League is eating itself.

I am sure all Palace fans would love to see a new academy prospect come through. It is fulfilling to see a local lad get his chance, but the way the Premier League is going, it will be become rarer and rarer for this to happen.

It is a small part of what makes being a football fan enjoyable. The sense of pride when Zaha got his England cap was undeniable, and I always wish the likes of Nathaniel Clyne and Ben Watson well – except against us of course! The academy is what gives a football club some of its identity. I am not saying I would rather play an academy prospect and lose the match rather than an experienced player who can help us get something from a game, but it is a shame that there are not more opportunities for young players at the moment.

Not giving more academy products a chance is a bit of an oversight from clubs. If you are not attempting to bring any through, other young players will look at the club and dismiss it as as an option. It would be pointless for them, and therefore the best talent can slip through the net.

Let us hope Hiram Boateng can buck this trend, for himself, the club and for us, the fans.




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