Palace Points: Youth players need time to develop

By - Saturday 5th October, 2013

Matt Woosnam begins a new regular column looking at South London’s number one football club, this time by exploring the youth

Former Palace academy star Wilfried Zaha – are prospects such as him becoming a rarer breed? Photo by Tom Brogan. Used under Creative Commons.

Jonathan Williams is the only academy graduate to have played for Palace’s first team in the league this season. In contrast this to the Southampton side which ran out 2-0 victors over Palace on Saturday included five home grown academy players – and there is perhaps a slight cause for concern.

Palace face Liverpool on Saturday with the Reds potentially including Raheem Sterling, Jordan Ibe and Andre Wisdom in their side. Although Sterling and Ibe were bought from QPR and Wycombe respectively it still shows that Liverpool are prepared to give their youth a chance.

There is a risk of the club going backwards if youth players are not given any opportunities to further their development through match experience at a higher level. The academy is the lifeblood of the club, it has an important role in the community and it obviously allows for the club to progress without spending fees on players.

Currently the idea of a billboard with South London and Proud featuring the likes of former players Sean Scannell, Nathaniel Clyne and Wilf Zaha seems a little misplaced, but it was relevant at the time prior to promotion when these young players were in the first team squad.

However, it is not so simple as to criticise the management for not giving the youth a chance. Co-chairman Steve Browett has explained how he would love it if Palace could field a team full of players who are from Thornton Heath and came through the academy system, but this is unrealistic, particularly in a league where experience is so crucial. Ian Holloway was attracted to the club on account of its impressive academy.

Whether players are ever ready to step up to the first team is difficult to ascertain because until a player is given first team experience then they have no idea of what it is like in that environment, playing against those players in the team they are a part of. The tactics are different and the age range is much vaster than in the development squad, therefore meaning the physicality and also the technical abilities of players is of a much higher level.

If they are brought in too early then there is the risk that the team could suffer from a mistake which leads to a goal, or a red card. The confidence of the academy player may then take a knock as a result and there is a dangerous knock on effect.

Whilst Hiram Boateng debuted last season, he has not been involved in any of the squads this season, despite his undoubted talent. If there is one Palace player ready to make the move into senior professional football at this current time then it is Boateng. The strong, well-built and very capable central midfielder finds himself with numerous players blocking his path, and so will have to be patient for his opportunity.

Palace do risk going backwards and undermining the superb progress that has been achieved with the academy

The trouble with not playing any academy graduates is that it means they may never be at a stage where they are deemed good enough to enter the fray in the first team. Purchasing vast numbers of players, with roughly 3 central midfielders for every one spot, holds back the youth players who may otherwise have been thrown in at the deep end and given a chance.

The reason that the likes of Clyne, Scannell and Zaha were given their debuts was because it was necessary. They weren’t ‘ready’ for the first team, but had they not started to make that progression when they did, then they would never have become the players they have. They learnt quickly from their mistakes and adapted their games to improve. Unless Palace allow these players to develop then they will continue to spend potentially millions of pounds on other teams’ players, thus strengthening their financial position and making the competition stronger.

There is a fine line to tread, and thus far it would appear that there are only two options available; let a player into the first team and play them or leave them be and let them fall onto the scrapheap. Nevertheless, there is a middle way. That is to loan players out, where they can gain valuable experience.

Kyle de Silva was loaned to Barnet following a nightmare with injury, Ryan Inniss joined Cheltenham Town and impressed in his first professional matches, whilst Ross Fitzsimons has travelled down to Havant and Waterlooville to taste first team action. The experience gained from this should result in greater understanding and awareness of how to play the game, but it must be at the right level.

Palace do risk going backwards and undermining the superb progress that has been achieved with the academy, and somewhat losing its club identity if players do not come through the system, but we must be patient and not expect to see players who are blessed with such talent as Zaha, Clyne, Moses, Williams et al come through the system so frequently.

Most clubs find themselves with a player like those every few years, but Palace were fortunate that they came through at once. There will be players who don’t quite reach the same heights but have an important role to play in the squad.

For now though, let’s enjoy the ride, take comfort in the knowledge that there is at least one outstanding player who looks like he could well make the grade at Palace in the coming years. Results may not be looking impressive for the youth teams at the moment, but it is about individual development, not team development, as the team will be broken up.

I’m sure that the owners of the club and the management are well aware that the academy is the lifeblood of Crystal Palace FC, and will seek to utilise it at every appropriate opportunity.

Matt Woosnam

Matt Woosnam

Matt Woosnam is a Kingston University student in his final year as a Politics & International Relations undergraduate. A campaigner on mental health he is the founder of @Talk_Out, as well as part of the TalkEasyTrust, and seeks to break down stigma by encouraging talking out. Matt is also an avid Crystal Palace fan and the online editor of Five Year Plan Fanzine, as well as a regular contributor to the Croydon Guardian.

More Posts