Crystal Palace have often struggled to produce top-class talent within their own academy, but things are slowly beginning to change in south London.
The likes of Wilfried Zaha, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Tyrick Mitchell have been nurtured at the capital club’s youth academy in recent years, which has recently been awarded Category 1 status after extensive redevelopment.
And the newfound status of Palace’s facilities should allow them to compete with their more affluent rivals both on and off the pitch, as outlined by chairman Steve Parish.
“Our ambition is to have one of the country’s leading football academies to capitalise on the hotbed of footballing talent in south London,” said Parish.
“The investment in the playing facilities, education offering and player care provision will enable us to attract and develop the next generation of Wilfried Zahas and Aaron Wan-Bissakas.”
It doesn’t appear to have taken long for the Selhurst Park outfit to see the rewards of their investment either, with the U18s only missing out on the league title due to goal difference last season.
One player who was instrumental in Palace’s push for success was striker Victor Akinwale. The 17-year-old bagged eight goals and provided three assists in 24 league games throughout 2020/21, and was rewarded for his efforts with four outings for the U23s.
The club’s official website describes the youngster as a physically imposing forward capable of bringing others into play, indicating he possesses similar traits to current Palace striker Christian Benteke.
“Battling from the front, he formed dangerous partnerships with David Omilabu and Jesurun Rak-Sakyi, his strength holding up the ball and playing with his back to goal complemented by the technical ability to bring others into play,” his description reads.
“His nine goals in 2020/21 were crucial in Palace’s breakthrough debut season at Category 1 level, including an early winner at Chelsea that set the precedent for their season. His performances were recognised by Shaun Derry, who rewarded Akinwale with minutes at Under-23s level.”
And the teenager has taken his game to another level in the opening weeks of the current campaign. In just six league games for the U18’s, the powerful attacker has found the back of the net on six occasions.
With Benteke set to turn 31 in December, Akinwale could prove to be the Belgium international’s natural heir at Palace, and new manager Patrick Vieira could be set to unearth the latest prospect from the club’s conveyor belt.