Crystal Palace have unveiled plans to obtain Category One academy status by the start of next season, with Roy Hodgson central to the club’s hopes of increasing the number of youth players progressing into the first-team.
The 72-year-old is out of contract at the end of the campaign, but talks are ongoing with the former England manager to extend his stay at Selhurst Park and the signs suggest he will be in the dugout for the 2020-21 term.
Palace this week revealed aspirations to improve the facilities at their Beckenham academy base; making it a campus that would include a full-size outdoor 3G pitch, indoor 3G pitch, changing rooms, gym and physio rooms, sports science area, classrooms and a restaurant.
The aforementioned changes would enable the Premier League outfit to secure Category One status – improving the level of opposition the 220 boys on their books would face and increasing the likelihood that the best players at Copers Cope Road would not be poached.
Location wise, the academy site, which the club have a 75-year lease for, is minutes away from the first-team training ground and well connected to public transport with Beckenham train station minutes away.
Hodgson may have turned 72 in August, but Palace’s chairman Steve Parish was effusive in his praise for the experienced boss, who gave youth-teamer Aaron Wan-Bissaka his full debut before the right-back earned a move to Manchester United this summer for £50million.
“We are having conversations. It is something we are talking about and there is no real time frame,” Parish revealed when quizzed on contract talks with his current manager.
“Roy is brilliant with his training sessions and it is fascinating, he is 72, but everybody buys into him at every age group whether it be on the training field or talking to him in his office.
“He is relatable to everyone. He knows how to talk to these people, is from the area and he is a huge positive.
“The proximity of the academy to the first-team training ground is brilliant and most people would tell you almost perfect. They are not in with the first team and don’t consider to be first-teamers before their time, but if Roy needs four players to train, we send four over.
“And that is how Aaron came about. Roy needed a right-back, (coach) Kevin Keen said send Aaron over. They sent him over and he never came back.
“Players go over to train with Roy all the time and he watches the under-23 games and there is no agenda. He will say if they will have a career or if he will keep them in the group, so he is absolutely pivotal to bringing players through.”
A meeting with local residents will take place on Thursday to explain the benefits of the club taking over the sole running of the base before a planning application is submitted to Bromley Council in November.
Previously it was the home of Goals Beckenham North while a gym is located on the premise alongside a children’s amusement centre.
Chairman Parish is hopeful residents will see the positives of the site being set up to host the Palace academy for the next 75 years, therefore thwarting the threat of future property development.
He also confirmed this project, which should cost an estimated £15-20million, will not have an impact on the club’s plans to redevelop and increase the capacity at Selhurst Park.
Parish added: “We think both are very important, but this is probably more urgent and can make more of an impact.”
The 54-year-old from Lewisham did admit holding up the club’s stadium plans is an issue with land owned by a nearby Sainsbury’s, but confirmed negotiations were ongoing.
South London has recently been described as a hotbed for footballers – with 14 per cent of the English players featuring in last season’s Premier League coming from the area – and Parish feels it is a mixture of the size of population plus the hunger and desire of those living there because they know it is a way out.
Given Palace’s location, the prospect of Category One status could see them snapping up the talent on the south of the River Thames from Bexley all the way across to Wandsworth, rather than watching some sign with fellow rivals in the capital like Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham.
But Parish’s overall desire for the academy includes “all the things on the outside of football in terms of the care and education” given to the players aged from nine all the way up to 23.
While Wan-Bissaka remains an inspiration for the current crop of youth-teamers, the major success story for the Palace chairman is Wilfried Zaha, who has made more than 350 outings for the club in two spells since coming through the ranks.
“I didn’t come into football to trade players so the biggest success of the academy for me is Zaha because he has played 300-odd times for the club,” Parish insisted.
“We are not here to create players for elite clubs, we are here to try and win things. That is where I want to get to. I want to compete with these guys.
“I would like to see Wan-Bissaka, Wilfried and seven other academy players fighting it out for top six and top four, that is what I would like to see. It might be a delusional aspiration, but I don’t understand what the point of doing it is otherwise.”