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Crystal Palace did not trial Jes Rak-Sakyi after his Chelsea release – as they feared missing out on his signature


Jesurun Rak-Sakyi did not have a trial before signing for Crystal Palace because they did not want to be gazumped for the South London winger.

The 18-year-old was let go by Chelsea in 2019. His first inclusion in Roy Hodgson’s senior Palace squad came against the Blues earlier this month.

Rak-Sakyi has been likened to Wilfried Zaha in terms of his physical development, in terms of initially struggling to cope with the physicality and power after switching into full-time football. The hope is that the comparisons with the Ivory Coast international do not end there.

Academy director Gary Issott has seen plenty of top talent come through during his 18 seasons at the club. And he is excited by the potential of Rak-Sakyi, raised in Southwark.

“He was released by Chelsea at 16 and our recruitment team deserve a little bit of credit,” Issott told the South London Press. “We signed him really without trialling him, because our recruitment team had watched him and Wes Awad [professional academy scout co-ordinator] said: ‘You have got to sign this boy – you can’t lose him’.

“They told us that we would have to wait for him to develop and that it wouldn’t happen in his first season with us. They were absolutely spot on.

“When he came back to pre-season he had grown a couple of inches and with that comes power, athleticism and some confidence – which is the key one.

“Staff have had to keep his mindset right while waiting for an opportunity. He has put in some fantastic performances for the U18s. He did very well away at Wolves for the U23s and he then scored the only goal in a home win against Leeds.

“He has emerged from the pack.

“We always knew he was a good player but since Christmas he has really kicked on.

“He does remind me of Wilf. In his second year he went straight into the first team and never came back. These things can happen.

“It is dangerous to overhype people because complacency can set into the player and his support network. And that is something you don’t want as an elite player – you have got to be playing and living on the edge most of your career.

“But what he has shown is that since December he has got an excellent chance of playing in our first-team. But that’s all it is. Until you get people into that team you don’t know whether they will shrink or shine.

“We are very excited about him but the last hurdle is getting into the team and then trying to stay there. That is the biggest hurdle, and it is still to come.”

It’s hard to believe that Zaha was not one of the academy’s leading lights coming through the age groups. He has gone on to become one of the top attackers in the Premier League and a Palace legend, scoring 66 goals in 386 matches in two spells with the SE25 club.

“Everyone’s pathway is different,” explained Issott.

“Some come through and are always the best. But no-one’s journey is the same. It is why you can’t rule anyone in or out unless you have got a really strong feeling based on all the elements – tactical, physical and psychological. Patience is a big thing in youth football. It is about judging players over the course of two to three years rather than week to week.”

Rak-Sakyi signed his first professional contract earlier this month. He has penned terms for two-years – the longest length he can at his age.

Issott said: “He is very exciting in one-v-one situations.

“He has the ability to go by players. He can stop-start, as we call it. He can make them [his marker] lift a leg and before they can put it down he has gone – either inside or outside. Once he is past them you have a numerical advantage in or around the goal.

“He has got good tactical discipline. He is not a wide player who is reckless. He is responsible and very aware of what he needs to do for the team, which is a dream for a coach.

“The data is that a player is in possession, on average, for one minute and 54 seconds in each match. The ball is only in play for 60 minutes – 30 minutes are restarts. So for 58 minutes a player is not in possession. That is why what you do in and out of possession is huge.”

Fellow U18s David Omilabu, Tayo Adaramola, Fionn Mooney and Jadan Raymond have already penned pro deals at Palace.

“There are more to come at the end of the season,” said Issott. “That group has done so well.

“There will be more that become professionals. We have already made offers, just not announced them yet.”

Issott believes that Euro 2020 this summer – delayed 12 months due to the Covid-19 outbreak – will also help with Eagles prospects like Rak-Sakyi getting a shot in pre-season.

“The Euros and competitions post-Premier League mean that some players will come back later,” he said. “The opportunities are there for young players. So if his chance doesn’t come he has got to try and maximise pre-season to make an impression on the manager. You saw that with Aaron Wan-Bissaka. He went away on the first-team trip, got in the manager’s thoughts and did well. It became his breakthrough season.

“We do think Jes has got the same opportunity – that first part of pre-season – if it doesn’t come this season.”

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