The English football academy system has attracted its fair share of criticism in recent years as the volume of home-grown talent has declined steadily since the formation of the Premier League in 1992.
Palace appear to be extracting more from their academy than most. In fact, since 2001 the club has produced more than ten players who have gone on to earn international recognition, while spawning some of the most prestigious talents in London to one of the best in football today.
Howard Wilkinson, the architect of English football’s modern youth development programme, accuses the top clubs of failing in their “moral responsibility” to give young players opportunities.
So what makes the South London club divergent to the rest?
Firstly, in the summer of 2010, Steve Parish was given some advice by former owner Ron Noades.
“When we took the club over, Ron stressed to me, ‘play the kids’.”
Heeding Noades was hardly a gamble. For more than a decade, few clubs at any level of the domestic game have been able to boast a talent factory as successful as Palace’s academy. This was a massive turning point in Palace’s youth development, Parish throughout the 2010/11 season saw Noades’ advice come to fruition as two academy graduates began to shine – Wilfried Zaha and Nathaniel Clyne.
Both Zaha and Clyne have gone on to become Premier League stars in there respective positions. Additionally, consistent performances in the red and blue stripes earned Nathaniel Clyne a move away from Selhurst Park to then Championship rivals Southampton.
The 2012/13 season was the year of the underdog. After a good start, which was met by an average finish, Palace achieved promotion to the big time. This was the breakout season for Palace graduate, Wilfried Zaha. The winger made 46 appearances and contributed 16 goals to the campaign. These statistics were proven to be Premier League quality as Zaha gained interest from English giants Manchester United.
The heeding of Noades’ advice was a massive turning point for Zaha’s Palace career as this gave the young man a chance of first team football. In my opinion, the biggest factor on Zaha’s career was the game at Brighton. This game was massive for the club and fans across the world. It was Palace’s chance to go to Wembley and what better way to do it than by beating your rivals in their own back yard?
At the start of the season, no-one would have thought Palace would be in the Championship play off final but they just kept on proving everyone wrong. Of course, Palace went on to beat Brighton courtesy of goals from you know who – Wilfried Zaha.
In the play off final, he stole the show once again, winning the decisive penalty inside the Watford box which Kevin Phillips dispatched with confidence to send Palace into the big time.
After completing his move to Manchester United in August 2013, Zaha went on to make his debut against Wigan Athletic in the Community Shield as he won his first major honour as a professional footballer.
In more recent times we have not seen much quality come out of the academy, until Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Aaron started off as a striker when he was a kid but scouted by the Eagles as a winger. In the summer of 2017, Wan-Bissaka began to feature in the first team under new manager Frank de Boer, appearing in a number of friendlies. His chances were limited as new signing Timothy Fosu-Mensah arrived from United.
An injury crisis in February 2018 gave the right back his chance against Tottenham Hotspur. With consistent performances coming against the top clubs, Aaron was handed the Player Of The Month award for March 2018. He is now seen as one of the most exciting young prospects in the Premier League and it will be very hard for Palace to keep hold of the young man.
As you can tell, the Palace academy is very unique compared to others. Several players such as Gareth Southgate, Ben Watson, Wayne Routledge and Victor Moses have taken a similar route to the first team, the latter even going as far as having a Premier League winners medal in his possession.
The most significant of all was Steve Parish taking note of those wise words from former owner and chairman Ron Noades when he took over in 2010. The quote in itself is the reason players such as Zaha, Clyne and Moses were able to become the footballers they are today. Maybe we will be talking about Wan-Bissaka in a similar manner in the future.