With England’s youth teams tasting success at a number of different levels in recent years, young players have been thrust into the spotlight – often before even getting game time for their clubs.
One Young Lion who seems to have avoided the hype (until now) though is Crystal Palace’s 20-year-old full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The Croydon-born youngster shone as Palace beat Fulham 2-0 on the opening weekend of the Premier League season, providing an assist with a through-ball for Wilfried Zaha after shrugging off Aleksandar Mitrovic and beating fellow English prodigy Ryan Sessegnon with a feint.
Wan-Bissaka began his career with Palace aged 11 and spent his whole time in the academy as a tall, leggy winger. He only played in his current position, right-back, for the first time when called up to train with the first-team squad as a member of the U23s.
However, Saturday’s performance at Craven Cottage proved just how quickly Wan-Bissaka has taken to defending as he kept 18-year-old Sessegnon quiet – not an easy task against a kid who netted 15 goals in the Championship last season and won the league’s Player of the Season and Young Player of the Season awards.
Palace’s newest prospect only made his debut for his boyhood club in February last season and certainly had to learn quickly, with Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea his first three games for the then relegation-threatened side.
His pace and athleticism certainly helped with his step up to the Premier League and the youngster has been commended for his ability to make last ditch tackles even against some of the best wingers the Premier League, and the world, has to offer.
As a relatively late bloomer, Wan-Bissaka has only appeared for England at U20 level, but he took his chance in March this year, making two appearances in wins over Poland and Portugal for his country.
While he may not be quite as technical as some of England’s recent young talents, such as fellow right-back and 19-year-old Trent Alexander-Arnold, Wan-Bissaka clearly has the mentality to progress in the game and up through the England youth sides.
At an international level, he may even find himself changing position again if Gareth Southgate thinks he could become a Kyle Walker style centre-back on the right side of a back three. At 6ft 0in he certainly has the height and build to be a success in that position and could be the long-term replacement for the Manchester City man.
For now though, it is time for Palace and England fans to get excited about the young talent and to hope that he can push on and develop his game with more first-team action under Roy Hodgson at Selhurst Park.