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Crystal Palace have long been associated with a rich, proud history of developing talented youngsters through their esteemed academy. Names such as Victor Moses, Nathaniel Clyne & Wilfried Zaha have all graced the top-flight via the club’s Croydon base, with Zaha, in particular, going on to establish himself as a key component of recent Palace folklore. It appears as though another gem has been unearthed this year, with the emergence of all-action full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
The arrival of the youngster to the senior team will come as no real shock to most around Selhurst Park, as he was a semi-consistent fixture on the bench during the campaign, before his debut and has long been held in regarded thoughts by insiders. Having made a handful of appearances in the Premier League last season, including a debut in a fierce London derby against Spurs, Wan-Bissaka was thrust into the spotlight with following games against Manchester United and Chelsea, handling the occasion with a maturity beyond his years during his brief first-team spell.
His real breakthrough has been this season, with the stat that he has started 24 of 25 league matches for Palace this season (he was suspended for the single fixture missed) really portraying his importance. A modern-day full-back comfortable in both attack and defence, Wan-Bissaka is blessed with an astute combination of technical ability and tranquil composure, making him a formidable opposition to come up against. It was his initial handling of the pace and trickery of Wilfried Zaha which impressed Palace staff and led to his re-positioning from winger to a long-term future as a full-back and it’s his defensive resilience which has won him many plaudits this year.
During his 24 appearances this term, Wan-Bissaka has a successful tackle percentage ratio of 74%, with a total of 91 tackles completed, rendering him far and away the most efficient in figures for Palace this season. Defensively his contribution has helped Palace equal their entire record of 9 Premier League clean sheets last season already this term, along with currently being on-course to improve upon last year’s defensive record in terms of goals conceded. He has proven a tricky customer for many a winger this season, winning 176 duels out of 261 so far and a staggering 138 recoveries. The dependable, solid nature of Wan-Bissaka’s performances this year are perfectly summed up by a complete lack of mistakes leading to goals, a remarkable statistic for someone so young and new to the position, as well as regularly being exposed to such elite opposition.
Making the breakthrough and establishing himself at such a tender age, in such a demanding position is a testament to the talents of Wan-Bissaka and has already led to admiring glances from domestic power-houses as well as at international level. Wan-Bissaka is a current England U21 international, with his two appearances already seeming to be a swan-song of sorts, as England boss Gareth Southgate watches on in admiration. The youngster’s defensive capabilities – in an era where the defensive duties can be easily neglected by some modern full-backs, who perhaps prefer to attack rather than combine with defensive discipline – proving an attractive differential trait.
The real excitement regarding Wan-Bissaka very much ties into the philosophy of the modern-age full-back, as he is as comfortable going forward as he is handling the more pragmatic side of his duties in defence. A composed ball-carrier who is comfortable surging forward, Wan-Bissaka has averaged 1.7 dribbles per game and it’s his potential to make an impact at both ends of the pitch which has gained him somewhat of a cult following with the Fantasy Premier League fandom, as one of the most popular budget defenders. Combining on the flanks with the flair and trickery of wingers such as Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha is a huge factor going forward for Palace, with their dangerous abilities leaving space for Wan-Bissaka to overlap and provide attacking support. His calm, composed aura on the football is one that truly defies his years and complements his defensive stability as a complete full-back.
In an era where young, English stars are sought after around the globe, Wan-Bissaka has been rewarded with first team responsibilities after showing a hunger to improve and re-invent himself. After his initial re-positioning to full-back, Wan-Bissaka had the raw attributes to play the position, but a lot of additional work was needed. Working closely with Under 23’s coach Richard Shaw, time would be spent on perhaps the less glamorous side of the position, with his heading, clearances and defensive steel to help supplement his fantastic recovery runs and reading of the game. A lot of credit is thrown towards Wan-Bissaka, who is said to have re-committed to the position all over again after previously perhaps being prone to a lax attitude at times in his youth. His emergence as a true star in a new position should be a testament to himself and the trust rewarded to him as a result from his employers at Selhurst Park, could perhaps be a sticking point in any future move from admirers such as Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
Wan-Bissaka recently penned a new four-year deal with Palace in the spring of last year, with the club keen to reward and tie-down yet another exceptional academy product. This should be no surprise either, due to the recent emergence of full-backs such as Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold being sought after so highly in the transfer market. The position is becoming more and more important in the modern game, with England’s recent international success of the summer being an excellent example of the importance wing-backs can make in the current game. Wan-Bissaka’s fearless outlook on the game is sure to be a fixture for both Crystal Palace and England for many years to come, with the perfect blend of defensive cohesion and adventurous dexterity for the modern-day full-back.