Crystal Palace U23 boss Richard Shaw on a strategy which works for Eagles academy – and why young players have got softer


There is a common theme in Crystal Palace’s academy to have their former players as coaches.

It is something ex-Eagles defender Richard Shaw – now the club’s U23 manager – advocates, with young players more likely to listen to those who have “been there and done it”.

Shaw boasts 268 appearances in a Palace shirt and played in the 1990 FA Cup final defeat by Manchester United and U18s boss Paddy McCarthy is a former club captain.

Look further down the age groups and you find Darren Powell (U15 coach) and Rob Quinn (U16 coach) who share a combined 101 appearances for the South London outfit.

“You do need to have that kind of affiliation with the club [at academy level],” Shaw explains. “You tell the boys about the ugly side of the game, how you have to learn, what it takes to be a footballer in terms of the work ethic – especially playing for this club in front of these fans.

“But some boys just don’t take any advice, they don’t listen, they just think ‘yeah, okay’.

“But because – in my case – you’ve been there, you’ve done it, you’ve seen it, it holds a bit more weight with the players. They listen more and understand what they have to do. The likes of Kian [Flanagan, U23 midfielder], he’s a good footballer but he needs to learn about the ugly side of the game – tackling, heading, tracking runners, and there are a few who need to do that.

“I certainly think here, at this football club – with these supporters who make a lot of noise and a great atmosphere – we have played in front of these guys and we’re trying to pass on that experience.

Kian Flanagan of Crystal Palace U23s has a shot on goal hit the woodwork during the Professional Development League match between Crystal Palace U23s v Sheffield United U23s on 25th March 2019 at Selhurst Park Stadium, Croydon.
Photo:Dan Weir/PPAUK.

“That’s important for every single football club, not just Palace. Whether you’re Leeds United, whether you’re Millwall, whether you’re Tottenham, having ex-players who know the club is quite important.”

Shaw namechecks the 19-year-old Flanagan who is highly rated by his manager. The Ireland U19 international had just stepped off the bench to score a stunning equaliser against Leeds U23s when the 50-year-old speaks.

Luke Dreher also netted in the 2-2 draw at Selhurst Park, and Shaw has tipped the pair to be with Roy Hodgson’s first team next season rather than them going on loan.

“I don’t know [whether Flanagan and Dreher will go on loan next season], that’s one for the manager to decide,” Shaw explains. “It’s a difficult one with the loan system because you have players like Luke who has been out injured for a year – possibly two years now – he might be one who just benefits from training with the first team, just like Aaron Wan-Bissaka did.

“Tottenham use the same model, the way their young boys play with the first team so they get used to their style and tempo of play. Luke might be one of them. I look at Luke and see that we have to look after him, he’s six-foot-two, gets around the pitch and is all-action. He might be one who benefits from training under Roy Hodgson and [first team coach] Dave Reddington next year and, in my opinion, could be in the first team.

“As a coach of the development squad I’d love to see all of them [play in the first team], but you know it’s not going to happen. I also understand now in football that there is so much money involved the higher up you finish, so we’re not naive enough not to think that the first team will want to win every game because it’s worth a lot of money to them.

Luke Dreher of Crystal Palace U23s on the ball during the Professional Development League match between Crystal Palace U23s v LeedsUnited U23s on 15th April 2019 at Selhurst Park Stadium, Croydon.
Photo:Dan Weir/PPAUK.

“The days of when I played and you could blood a few youngsters when you’re safe, I’m not too sure they’re there anymore.”

Shaw broke into the Palace team in 1986.

Do young professionals now enjoy an easier, more sanitised life? “We make too much of it,” insists the former defender, who went on to appear for Coventry City and Millwall after departing Selhurst Park in 1995. “I still watch games from the 1970s and 80s. I watched a game the other day from 1979, Chelsea versus Tottenham, and Ray Wilkins was unbelievable. The game hasn’t changed.

“It looks to have got quicker. The only thing that’s changed the most is the money and how that affects the clubs, how much they spend. Results are more and more important.

“Have academy players got softer? Yes.

“This is not me being all ‘back in my day’, but I certainly think that there is… not an easy culture, but a softer culture. If I can speak for myself, we understood the rewards of trying to make it in football. A lot more is done for the youngsters now.

“There is a lot I don’t agree with, I don’t agree with the whole ‘they should clean this, they should clean that’ and doing everything like that. I don’t agree with that. But there has to be more of a work ethic around being a footballer and the rewards.

“For instance, I don’t think youngsters should be paid what they are getting paid. You have to actually earn that. It has got to be incentivised where you get to the first level, then get to the second level and third level. It’s too easy to get to the first level and the players take their minds off the important things. I also appreciate that times move on.”



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