It’s no secret that Crystal Palace have a star on their hands in young right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka. How the South London outfit handle this rising star will define the club’s ambitions and direction for perhaps the next decade to come.
Wan-Bissaka’s flying start against the Premier league’s big boys was well documented last season. Coming up against world class attacking threats like Alexis Sanchez, Eden Hazard, and Sadio Mane is not the introduction to first team football that you’d prescribe for a 21 year old less than a year in his position, but the Croydon native more than held his own, churning out performances that thrust him into the spotlight straight away. Since then, he has made a habit of pocketing wide men from top six clubs, prompting the Selhurst faithful to sing his name and point out that “your wingers don’t like him”.
Even as those dominating 1 v 1 performances piled up there were moments of tactical naivety that led to the odd goal. These kinds of mistakes are par for the course for such a young player, but any positional slipups seem to have completely disappeared during the Crystal Palace academy graduate’s full debut season in the Premier League. On the contrary, recent games have seen the fullback come to the rescue on numerous occasions with last gasp challenges and interceptions in his own box, hinting at a positional and tactical awareness that is beginning to match his incredible ability in the tackle.
While the former winger proved right off the bat that he wasn’t afraid to get into advanced positions and take on opposing fullbacks, his service into the box was severely lacking. This area of his game has also seen a dramatic improvement in recent weeks. While Andros Townsend’s wonder strike against Manchester City gained all the publicity, and rightly so, it was the palace youngsters perfect cross, whipped in from the right after skipping effortlessly by Fabian Delph, that eventually led to Max Meyer winning a penalty and sealing the game. That bit of service, placed perfectly onto Townsend’s head, points not to a promising young talent, but beyond that, to a world class star in the making.
It seems as though pundits, commentators, and even opposing fans are becoming more and more aware of this week over week. With that in mind, the back room staff and scouting department‘s at big six clubs are sure to have taken notice as well. With fullbacks who can bottle up opposing attackers and get forward to contribute in attack going for hefty sums, see Kyle Walker, it seems only a matter of time before one perennial title contender or another comes knocking.
And it is precisely then that the club will have a decision to make. Do they hang on to burgeoning young talent and look to kick on from being a Premier League survivor to a team that has top half and even European ambition, or take the profit and look to stabilize a side that has struggled with squad depth at times over the past few seasons? Palace supporters, along with fans at most other clubs in similar situations, have become resigned to watching their young talent be gobbled up by bigger clubs. Palace need look no further than the likes of Nathaniel Clyne and Victor Moses in recent years, and more recently yet Wilfried Zaha’s ill-fated move to Manchester United to see how this situation often plays out for smaller clubs.
With the clubs big spend in the past few January windows in an effort to stay at the top of the English football pyramid being well documented in our lack of transfer funds this season, it must be tempting for Steve Parish to cash in and replenish the club’s coffers. The Palace chairman could no doubt use the profits from a Wan-Bissaka sale to find a serviceable right back and a few other grafters to help the club grind its way to survival for a few more seasons.
There is also the specter of the Selhurst Park redevelopment looming in the background, calling out for funding as well. Would the club sell a promising young asset to help fund infrastructure off the pitch?
Purely from a fan’s perspective, I’m sure most would love to see the club hang on to such an exciting player that can truly swing the balance against the Premier League‘s elite. Could we find depth or even another star in our own Academy? Both the U-23’s and U-18‘s had spectacular seasons a year ago and it wasn’t even that long ago that Wan-Bissaka himself was plying his trade at that level. Unfortunately, that is a risk with big consequences if you get it wrong. However, as we’ve seen with the man headlining this story, it could pay huge dividends.
Just wear the club decides to cash in those dividends, on the pitch or in the bank, remains to be seen and may just say more about Crystal Palace’s ambitions than just about any piece of business in the club’s history.