The construction of a £20 million academy centre in Beckenham, and its new Category 1 academy status demonstrate Crystal Palace are a club which is making strides towards an exciting future.
Investment into a new academy centre, which is set for completion in summer 2021, was spurred by the club’s ambition to reach Category 1 status for youth development, the highest grading in English football.
Since being granted planning permission in March, Academy Director Gary Issott has overseen what is Palace’s most significant infrastructure project to date, the upgraded facilities meaning the club was finally awarded Cat 1 in July.
Issott said: “Because our facilities weren’t good enough before, we were in the Cat 2 programme where lower league sides play, meaning our under 18s and 16s didn’t have as challenging a programme as other Premier League clubs.
“We’ve got the catchment area now, we have the facilities and that affects the quality of the programme you can deliver.”
Since 2012, a club’s academy status has been determined by the EPPP (Elite Player Performance Programme) which considers infrastructure, coaching provisions and overall investment.
The select few Cat 1 clubs compete against each other across different age groups starting from under 18 level, creating a hotbed of talent from all over the world.
Issott believes Palace can use their new status to retain promising talents who may have been tempted to leave in the past, under 17s Fionn Mooney and Jadan Raymond’s new contracts being an indication of this.
He said: “Teams used to be able to poach our players by telling them ‘we can give you a Cat 1 games programme’, that argument has now been taken out of the equation.
“We have one or two under 14s who potentially would’ve left this summer had we not gone Cat 1, so it’s had a huge part in us keeping those players.”
Palace also now enjoy the benefit of being able to recruit talent from other clubs outside their catchment area, with the offer of superior coaching, facilities and a more competitive games programme.
Crucially, Issott maintains that Palace will not lose its south London identity in the process and will continue recruiting local talent from the area, something which it has become famous for.
He commented: “What you’re hoping to do is add a different type of player to what you’ve got and improve the team.
“Each catchment area has its own benefits. Southampton will have their strengths, Liverpool will have theirs and we have ours.
“It may seem like we’ve just produced a lot of players on the outside of the pitch, fullbacks, wingers, but internally we think we’ve been slightly unlucky. We’ve had midfield players like Jonny Williams that could have been really top class but were curtailed with injuries.”
The latest academy product to attract attention is another wide player, 21-year-old Tyrick Mitchell, whose ascent to the first team was unsurprising to Issott.
He said: “Tyrick was the one I felt in that age group of players who could play in the first team, partly because there is such a shortage in his position at left-back.
“You never know exactly how they’re going to do until you put them in but he’s done brilliantly to take the chance and establish himself, because make no mistake, the Premier League level is ridiculous.”
After 16 years at Palace, during which Issott has seen the club come close to liquidation, they now employ over a hundred staff across the first team and academy.
With a larger academy and substantial budget for youth development, though, the pressure to find the next Victor Moses or Wilfried Zaha has never been higher.
Palace’s academy was well represented in the first team’s game against Fulham at the weekend, where Nathaniel Clyne started alongside Zaha and Mitchell to make it three Palace academy graduates in the starting 11.
Issott explained: “Running a top end academy you’re talking many millions of pounds. There is a pressure that we produce players to justify paying that investment off to our owners.
“There’s also an emotional pressure from the supporters where they want to see home-grown players in the first team because those that come through the club play with their heart and soul.
“Now the pressure is on us to deliver the players into the first team on a more regular basis than we have done but everyone in our academy thrives under pressure anyway.
“We just really want to become the most productive academy initially in London and then the whole of the UK, that’s got to be the ambition.”
SWL also spoke to the man behind Crystal Palace’s social media arms race, and you can read about it here.
Featured image credit: Crystal Palace FC