The Under-23s coach, Richard Shaw, became something of a club icon during his years at Crystal Palace and spoke with us in the days after an emphatic victory for his Development side over Bristol City.
During his time at Selhurst, Shaw played through a period of growth for the club. Joining the Eagles as they sat around the upper half of the old Division Two in 1986, Shaw ultimately left in 1995 having seen Palace win the Full Members’ Cup, Division One title and finish runners-up in the FA Cup.
The years he spent with the red and blues also saw him win the Player of the Season title in ‘95 and play alongside the likes of Ian Wright, Jim Cannon and Geoff Thomas.
His transition to coaching Palace’s Under-23s has seen him lead the team to becoming champions of the Professional Development League South and into a side creating exciting talents in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Sullay Kaikai, Levi Lumeka and Jason Lokilo among several others.
However, he tells us, the players’ development never stops.
“The aims for the season are probably going to be the same as they have been for the last two years. Again, they’re to develop, to make the players better, to try and get somebody in around the first team like we did with Aaron. We just want to try and improve the players every single day, not just as players but as people as well.
“The boys going out on loan is a positive for us, because they need to understand what the real world’s all about and it’s not easy. Sometimes you get caught up in a little bubble here at a Premiership club in an academy and it’s only when you go out and come across adversity that it sort of makes or breaks you.”
Several younger players are currently trying to work their way into Shaw’s side from Paddy McCarthy’s Under-18s, and the man whose eye they’re hoping to catch is pleased with what he’s seeing.
“They’ve been good [the Under-18s], I’ve been very impressed by some of those guys. The main thing for me is that they want to work, their attitude is good.
“Coming from the 18s to us is a big jump but from us to the first team is a big jump. We just try and get them used to training at the tempo and the intensity of the first team. You can’t replicate it but if they can get in around that, then it’ll be better for the boys.
“They’ve stepped up to the plate but we also know it’s new to them because it is work. And it will be new to them and they will tire, so we’ve got to have an understanding and duty of care with the guys as well. But they’ve all done really well I have to say.”
Reflecting on his own career at a young, developmental age, Shaw told us that times have changed but that the experience of older players will never cease to be beneficial.
“I was training as a youngster with the first team at 16. [At] 15 sometimes I’d come in from school. It makes you grow up, back in the day when I was playing it was more ruthless than it is now. You got swore at, you got kicked.
“Today it’s a bit different, but the guys will learn from these guys [older players] on how to train. Scott Dann came down recently and he was terrific in training, just his passing, his due care and attention to every small detail of his play. You could see our centre-halves, I was saying: ‘look at him, day in, day out and [at] how he prepares.’ It can only benefit the youngsters when these guys come down.”
Defeating a very strong Bristol City side on Monday meant that the Under-23s had secured a good result. Despite typically trying to replicate the first team’s style, Shaw explains that a change in tact was necessary for victory that night.
“I’ve always been quite respectful to how the first team play. We try and marry up and play the same sort of system so that when a boy does go up, he sort of fits into or slots into the way they want to play.
“There are occasions I have to say where we have to change it around. [Against Bristol] we played three at the back because we were very young and played against QPR recently who were very senior and we got beaten 5-0 and, to be fair, as good as QPR were, we were poor.
“I knew Bristol City were going to be quite experienced so we played three at the back, three centre-halves, and it just seemed the right way to play them. So the odd time, or maybe a bit more than the odd time, we’ll play a different system. ”
With several of Shaw’s young players beginning to transition into first team football, it’s hard to pick out a specific member of the team who stands out. However, the work rate of one midfielder in particular has impressed the manager.
“I’m going to be honest, I’m especially pleased with Kian [Flanagan] because Kian has come back with a really good attitude and he’s seen the guys go up there, seen them go and train, and he’s stayed here and trained with the 18s that have come up. I sort of felt for him in a way.
“But I take my hat off to him, he has really knuckled down well. He came back July 2nd in really good shape and his attitude has been brilliant. I always believe the harder you work the luckier you get and I look at Kian and think, ‘you’ve worked really hard’. The goal against Dulwich was his reward for all the hard work he’s done. He’s put himself in the manager’s eye now which is good and he’s going to go up there and train more often than not now.”
Despite being pleased with the success of his team, Shaw still finds himself missing life as a player and ended his chat with us on the following note.
“I did enjoy playing, I loved it. And games like Bristol City - under floodlights, it’s raining and the pitch is zippy - I’m saying, ‘do you know what? I’d love to be going out there tonight. I really envy you guys.’ I thought, ‘God I’d love to be out there just having a kick around for another 90 minutes.’
“I actually quite enjoy developing, I really do. I like seeing the youngsters do well. This is probably more me than the first team, I enjoy this side of it. I have enjoyed it and nights like Bristol make me very proud of the boys and how well they’ve done.”