This article is part of Football FanCast’s Expert Roundup feature, which provides three quotes from those in the know in order to illuminate fundamental strengths, weaknesses, quirks, kinks, stylistic comparisons and general observations of players, transfer targets and confirmed signings.
Having only completed two signings this summer and with the new Premier League season fast approaching, Crystal Palace supporters are waiting eagerly for acquisitions to arrive at Selhurst Park.
Stephen Henderson and Jordan Ayew are the only incoming signings that Palace have completed so far and signing additional goalkeeping cover is unlikely to enthuse the masses.
That said, it appears that the Eagles are actively pursuing deals. According to the Daily Star, the South London side have had a £20m bid rejected for Chelsea’s Reece James.
Palace’s interest in the Chelsea starlet has been reaffirmed by Sky Sports, who say they’re one of several teams interested in signing the 19-year-old.
Following Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s departure to Manchester United, Roy Hodgson’s side need a replacement.
While both reports state that Chelsea are unwilling to part ways with James, particularly as they’re banned from signing players, transfers are historically unpredictable.
But what have those in the know had to say about James’ ability?
“Reece was outstanding and his goal epitomises where he is as a lad. He is so self-confident, and that is backed up by his ability and work ethic. All season he has been showing people that he has a very strong career ahead of him, and we are delighted to be playing a small part in his progression.”
James’ success during his loan move to Wigan Athletic last season is well-documented. During the club’s end of season awards ceremony, the teenager bagged a hat-trick of awards, having been named Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year, while also winning Goal of the Season for his wonder strike against Bristol City.
Following that tremendous goal against the Robins, Cook spoke ardently of James’ qualities and his enormous potential, as Sports Mole reported. His work ethic is reflected by the awards he attained, particularly by the recognition he garnered from his teammates – the hallmark of any good player.
Such was the consistency of the Englishman’s performances, he achieved an average score of 7.1 per Championship outing by WhoScored last campaign, and he was named in their best Championship starting eleven for the season. Accordingly, it seems that James would be the ideal replacement for Wan-Bissaka.
Wigan manager Paul Cook, deflecting the credit for Reece James' improvement this season: "Reece would grow under the worst manager in the country. "
— Richard Jolly (@RichJolly) April 19, 2019
“From a defensive standpoint he is incredibly difficult to beat. When you marry his physicality (James has a touch of the Michael Essien’s about him!) with great technique, you have a serious prospect on your hands. In attack, James utilises his previous experience as a winger as well as any fullback in developmental football. Crucially, he is comfortable in every third of the pitch (with and without the ball), and he is notorious for his superb end-product and intelligent link play.”
Writing for BTL about James’ performances for Chelsea’s youth sides at the end of the 2017/18 season, Tweedie identified the teenager’s multifaceted skill set before his breakthrough season at Wigan. The Chelsea starlet’s displays for the club attest to Tweedie’s glowing assessment.
James played in three different positions (right-back, defensive midfield and centre-back) in the Championship for Wigan last season and excelled in each. The number of positions James has played extends to four when factoring in his displays at youth level, where he occasionally played as a right midfielder for the Blues.
Such intelligence and tactical adaptability could prove invaluable for Crystal Palace. Seldom do you see a homegrown prospect as skilled and justifiably revered as James; indicative of his enormous potential.
English prospects are typically overrated to such a ridiculous extent that they’re preordained to fail from the off, but one senses that the hype surrounding James is entirely vindicated.
“I think he’s going to be a top player. He’s already a top young player, and I think he’s going to be a top player. It’s great for him to get this opportunity at Wigan, and I notice he’s been player of the month three times in a row which is obviously something! That shows how well he’s playing and how much his development is coming on.
“I did a lot of work with the Academy at Chelsea last year, and I saw a lot of him, trained with him a lot. It was very evident the player he already is – and the player he will hopefully become.”
More fervent praise was handed to James in December last year by Chelsea legend Frank Lampard. Little did we expect that seven months later Lampard would be managing the starlet at Chelsea, and the Blues’ all-time leading scorer acknowledged James’ potential early, as he told Wigan Today.
To have a man of Lampard’s esteemed pedigree and monumental success label you as a “top talent” is conceivably the best praise that any young player could receive. A consensus is forming in these opinions; everyone recognises the 19-year-old’s vast potential.
If Palace are successful in their pursuit of the youngster, the move would signify an excellent long-term investment. Given the unanimous positive appraisal of James’ talent, Palace shouldn’t concede hope of signing him just yet.