AARON WAN-BISSAKA’S incredible rise at Crystal Palace to the brink of an England senior call-up is all about the Eagles’ emphasis on youth development and a timely intervention from Roy Hodgson, claims club legend Mark Bright.
Wan-Bissaka, 21, has been outstanding since making his debut a year ago and is on the radar of Manchester City and Bayern Munich.
And Bright, who oversees all of Palace’s loan players, nearly sent the defender out to gain experience as Wan-Bissaka was keen to get some game time under his belt.
Bright exclusively told SunSport: “Amazingly on transfer deadline day (January 2018) he asked me if he could go out on loan.
“I asked the manager and he refused, but as I was telling him the manager came down and told him ‘if you stay here you will be training with Yohan Cabaye, Wilf [Zaha] and Andros Townsend’.
“‘You might even get a chance here’, that was the last thing he said to him.
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“Five days later he made his first-team debut.
“I would have sent him out on loan as there were two clubs who wanted him and we would have never known.
“He, without knowing it, gives all those below and in his age group hope that at this football club, if you work hard enough and develop, you will get in the team.”
Bissaka is following in the footsteps of Wilfried Zaha, Nathaniel Clyne, Wayne Routledge, Clinton Morrison, Victor Moses and current England boss Gareth Southgate as Selhurst Park academy graduates.
Palace put faith in youth while tapping into the huge south London talent pool.
It’s not just about producing players for the first-team, the club takes huge pride in the place they hold in the local community.
Bright completed the Palace for Life Foundation’s ‘Marathon March’ in October, alongside chairman Steve Parish to raise cash for club’s foundation.
He is fully aware of the influence football clubs have, and when they take an active role in their local community, they can effect positive change.
And with the rise in knife crime in London, Palace’s role in helping kids can effectively save lives.
He continued: “We do a great job in the community, just helping youngsters to try and get them on the straight and narrow.
“We take over the PE lessons, we had one guy he was so good he ended up working for the club as a goalkeeping coach.
“There was a launch when the scheme was renamed Palace for Life and after Steve Parish gave a speech, a girl called Angel spoke and she said how the foundation saved her.
“She said she was heading in the wrong direction and could not find a way out.
“Her story is so powerful and Angel helps others now who are in trouble.
“We are talking about drug and alcohol abuse, she’s a shining light in the foundation and uses herself as an example to others.
“Every now and then people come through the schemes, Wilf Zaha came through the Kickz project, where they kept kids off the street by organising football games.
“When the kids are off the streets, the crime rates fall – kids just want to play football.”
After four years at Leicester City, Bright moved to Selhurst Park in 1986 under Steve Coppell and three years later helped the club into the top flight.
His six years at the club saw him hit 91 goals in 227 appearances.
And Bright will be forever loved by Palace fans for his part in their epic FA Cup run to Wembley, losing to Manchester United in the final and who could forget that incredible semi-final win over Liverpool at Villa Park.
He retired in 1999 and enjoyed a successful career in broadcasting before returning to Palace as an academy coach in 2009.
Bright said: “When you have a special moment at a club, you leave and you’re made welcome when you come back.
“Academy boss David Moss wanted me to help with the kids, so I watched training and thought to myself ‘I can do this, I’ll work with the strikers’ and I had my Uefa B licence anyway so I had 30 minutes with the strikers.”
And just when we are about to discuss Parish, Bright gets a call from the Eagles chairman.
He jokes: “I’m just in an interview and I’m talking about you (laughs)!”
Bright continued: “Steve is passionate about the club, the Palace team of 89-91, Steve always looks at that team as a defining moment.”
When Parish first took over the club, home or away he would be in the directors box with Bright watching his new team.
Over the years the pair have become good friends and while Parish values the input of a club legend, Bright insists there is no one in any boardroom to match him.
He continued: “I don’t want to overplay my role, but if Steve takes to you, then he takes to you.
“Steve is the smartest guy I know, people just come to him for advice on anything.
“We just ended up going to dinner a lot, talking a lot and he’d tell me we are off to the game this weekend.
“Over the course of time he learnt so quickly, it’s a ruthless business and he’s a businessman.
“That side of things I couldn’t teach him, football side of things, he has a very good idea.
“I’ll back him against any chairman in the Premier League in terms of player knowledge and signings.
“His favourite is Mahrez when Leicester came to Selhurst Park and it looked like they were going down.
“He said to me ‘If they go down, we should try and get him’.
“I said ‘Mahrez, he’s lightweight, he won’t do anything for us, we need a bit of power, he’s not a Palace type’.
“Next year he wins the Premier League and is player of the year.”
Bright knows about struggle and rejection.
Told by Port Vale he was not good enough, he proved them wrong when they took him back from Leek Town.
Vale sold him to Leicester City where he found it tough before joining Palace in 1986.
And from Bright’s perspective, there are a lot of talented kids in the system, but too many lack fight.
He added: “I don’t think there is the adversity, they don’t struggle, you don’t see the fight in them.
“Why? Society has changed, look at the things that were around when I was playing, things are no longer acceptable.
“When I was finishing my career at Charlton, I saw three players who I knew were different – Jermain Defoe, Scott Parker and Paul Konchesky.
“Parker joined us at 16 and in training and I was one of the senior players and you try and pass on your knowledge – you give them a dig, you shout at them and Scotty didn’t like it, it threw him a little bit.
“The reality of coming into a first-team environment was tough where we are trying to win games.
“He was taking chances, trying flicks and dribbles so I put him right.
“And he came to and said ‘Can you not shout at me, can you just talk to me.’
“I said ‘I’ll treat you like I treat everyone else’.
“Scott is now retired and a first-team coach at Fulham.
“He tells me you can’t talk to the young players the way you spoke to me – in an uncompromising way using foul language.
“You have to emphasise to them how important it is you can’t do that in the first team, you will lose games.
“Before it was tough love from the senior players to make sure you survived.”
So while Palace provide a genuine pathway to the first-team, some will grasp the chance with both hands, while others will earn good money but not push themselves to be the best they can be.
Bright continued: “If you switch off you will leave – we will not keep anyone who isn’t motivated.
“In this job, you need to be motivated, and get up in the morning and enjoy coming to work.
“Our manager is in his seventies, he doesn’t turn up late, he turns up and is enthusiastic about what he wants to do.
“So you take your lead from the boss – if he is enthusiastic and passionate about what he’s doing, then so should everyone else.
“In football and in life you will find your level, not everyone can be a Premier League player.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a good Championship, League One or Two player.
“You are still playing pro football -what we aim to do is give the player a good start and if you can’t make it here, we hope you can make it somewhere else as that is a tick in our box for someone who has come through our academy.
“The first part of the deal is you work hard, you come through those doors you must work hard.
“I can tell you know some talented people have left this club, having talent is only part of it.
“You need to have a will to win, toughness and resilience because you will get knockbacks in football, you will be told you will be dropped, taken off, not in the squad and all these things will shape you.”