Why Has Our Academy Become A Joke?
Where's all the talent gone?
There are basically two types of Crystal Palace fan. There is the type who likes to wax lyrical about how far we’ve come during the last 8 years and how we’re lucky to have a club let alone be in the Premier League, then there is the other type who acknowledges how far we’ve come but at the same time points out what’s wrong with the club because they can see the problems and want to push the club forward to be better than it is.
I’m in the latter category. Why? Because sitting around giving ourselves a metaphorical pat on the back breeds complacency and we all know where that has led us over the last couple of years.
Ever since December 2015 when we were at the dizzy heights of 5th place in the Premier League and we embarked on our run to the FA Cup Final we have flirted cocking everything up.
During that run, we were getting spoon fed nuggets like ‘this is the most successful Palace team of all time’ or ‘we’ve never had a successful period in our history as now’ and it all was aimed at brainwashing the fans into believing that rubbish.
Indeed, one half see Parish as a man who can do no wrong because “he saved us and without him, we’d have no club” while the other half of us points out the mistakes he’s made and how we’ve lucked into our position rather than achieved it through good planning.
How I measure success
For me, success isn’t measured by how long we remain in the top flight, which incidentally was just 3 years at that time we were being spoon-fed the nonsense I mentioned above.
For me, success is defined by our final league position. Pottering around in the lower end of the Premier League doesn’t equate success for me. We might be in the most successful financial period of our history but that isn’t what satisfies the fans.
The 1990-91 season when we finished 3rd in the top flight is something which will probably never be beaten in my lifetime. Anyone can get to a cup final, it takes quality to finish in the top three of the top division in any era!
Our famous youth system
One of the standout facts about the team that finished 3rd in 1990-91 was how many products of our youth system that were in or around the first team. The most notable players were John Salako and Richard Shaw but there were other fringe players at the time who went on to be first team regulars in the years after, such as Gareth Southgate, Andy Woodman, Ricky Newman, Simon Osborn, Jamie Moralee and David Whyte.
You might say they were not brilliant players but they were all first-team players not bench warmers and reserve players.
Going back to before the Steve Coppell era Palace were famous for producing great players as well. You only need to look at the ‘Team of The Eighties’ that played under Terry Venables to see this. Back then we had players such as Jim Cannon, Peter Nicolas, Jerry Murphy, Ian Walsh, Vince Hilaire, Billy Gilbert and, of course, Kenny Sansom all come through the system.
Even during the Simon Jordan era when our youth system became an academy, we produced players who became first team players such as Wayne Routledge, Gary Borrowdale, Ben Watson, Tom Soares, Lewis Grabban, John Bostock, Victor Moses, Sean Scannell and Nathaniel Clyne.
So the question is this since CPFC 2010 took control of the club what has happened to our academy?
Who cares, we’re in the Premier League!
That is basically what the fans who wax lyrical about where we are today say. They say we’ve had to concentrate in other areas of the club to be as successful as we currently are in the Premier League. Bullshit!
Where do we get the opinion that we can’t concentrate on two things at the same time? In our run to the cup final, we were told all the time that we lost concentration in the league. It makes no sense at all!
You don’t have to sacrifice one area of the football club to concentrate on another. The two can co-exist happily at the same time, you only have to look at Chelsea’s model to see that a flourishing youth system can bring in millions each season when you loan them out to other clubs.
The maths are simple. Chelsea loan out about 45 players a season. Let’s say the average loan fee is £1m then you can work out the income is £45m a season. Let us not forget Tom Ince cost us £1m from Blackpool for a 4-month loan in 2014 so loan fees do generate a significant income.
Hang on, Zaha came through the system under CPFC 2010.
This is a common misconception. It’s something that people who think Steve Parish is the second coming of Christ and Simon Jordan is the anti-christ often claim but it’s factually wrong.
Wilfried Zaha made his Crystal Palace debut on 27th March 2010, three months before Steve Parish took control of the club. In fact, Zaha signed his first professional contract in April 2010, two months before the takeover was agreed.
Zaha had already been at the club for a number of years as an academy player so he is very much a product of the Simon Jordan era and not the Steve Parish era whatsoever.
Even Jonathan Williams, the last academy player to make it as a first team regular (and I am being generous by saying that), was an academy player during the Jordan era even though he made his debut in 2011.
So, if you want to be generous you could say since Steve Parish took control of the club that we have produced one player of any note, Jonny Williams but let’s be honest, that isn’t much to shout about.
Our only real hope for the future is Sully Kaikai because Jason Lokilo came from Anderlecht and Nya Kirby came through the Tottenham youth academy.
So where has all the talent gone?
Basically, it’s gone to Millwall and Charlton. Both clubs have a Category A academy while ours is a Category B.
It would be disingenuous to say that kids prefer to sign with lower league clubs because they stand a better chance of getting into the first team. This doesn’t seem to harm other top-flight clubs such as Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal. While it would be harder to get into the first team of a Premier League club it would be more difficult at Tottenham than at Crystal Palace.
Another myth which has been repeated so often it has been accepted as truth is that Jonny Williams is a really good player. People claim the only reason he is loaned to Championship clubs all the time is so he can get some game time because our midfield is really good.
News Flash: he can’t get into the Sunderland team, a team that is bottom of the Championship! It’s high time that we accept Williams isn’t going to make it at Palace and that we either sell him or release him so he can have a career somewhere.
Sometimes we seem to hang on to players in the same way that someone hangs on to an old armchair because it has sentimental value.
We need to face facts
For whatever reason, our academy has been neglected since Steve Parish took over. For all of Simon Jordan’s faults, he invested in the youth system, even sending players like Victor Moses to the Whitgift School to get a private education. When you bare in mind that Jordan was losing £1m a month that says a lot about the guy that he’d still want to give players with poor backgrounds a good education.
We need to invest in the academy, something that was once a jewel in our crown and get the club back to its core value. We have a massive catchment area for talent and we are one of the top 5 clubs in the south-east of England. We have no excuses yet this seems to be overlooked.
Maybe I am biased but I struggle to name 5 players that Charlton and Millwall have produced over the last 40 years that can compete with the calibre of players that we’ve produced during the same time.
If, or when, Wilfried Zaha leaves Crystal Palace we stand to have a squad that is totally devoid of a player that we have produced and that is something that has never happened since I’ve been a supporter of the club.
Having players in the first team that have come through the academy is something that I have been immensely proud of since I have been a Palace fan.
Is this really the legacy of the “most successful ever period in our history” as a Premier League club?
For more information on the players who have come through our youth system since Simon Jordan took over the club in 2000, click here.