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      Wharton talks in-depth on Premier League move long in the making


      Just a month into his Premier League career, Adam Wharton sits down to talk about growing up on the terraces, shining on the biggest stage, and a Palace debut long in the making…

      On the face of it, everything in football seems to happen at breakneck speed. One minute a club is interested in a player, the next a bid is placed, and suddenly he’s being unveiled in an imaginative way across social media.

      The slightest delays cause anguish: the minute a certain journalist or two determines a deal is done, every second he is not announced is an interminable and intolerable obstruction to the future of the club itself.

      Of course, once a player has signed and we’ve all calmed down, we begin to learn just how much time and effort goes into the deal itself.

      At Crystal Palace, Adam Wharton has been an immediate success. Player of the Match against Everton last month, his performances have grown in stature since arriving and at just 20-years-old he looks more than ready to adapt to the rigours of the Premier League. But was it luck? Not a bit of it. Palace’s interest in the player goes back not just longer than the January window, but many more months before that.

      Wharton was still a promising academy player at Blackburn Rovers when he first became aware of the club’s interest in signing him. “Funnily enough, it was after my first Championship start which would have been late August, early September of 2022,” he remembers. “Dougie [Freedman] was actually at that game, my manager told me. There was interest but I was never going to move at that time or anything.”

      Although a move would take 18-months to materialise, Palace’s long-standing admiration of Wharton went a long way to winning the race for his signature. “The interest was there for quite a long time, which is also a sort of bonus,” he explains.

      “[It’s] like an incentive for me that I was a player that they were invested in, in a way. They were spending all that time interested. It wasn't just a little impulse. So that was a factor that I took in to sort of help me make my decision.”

      When it became clear that the transfer was a possibility, Freedman discussed with Wharton his potential in more detail. “I spoke to Dougie,” he remembers. “He introduced himself and spoke to me about what I was thinking, but also what he likes about me, what he thinks I can work on, and why he thinks Palace would be a good move.

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      The interest was there for quite a long time, which is a bonus.

      Adam Wharton

      “Again, that gives you a better idea of what you would be moving to, and it helps to make your decision a lot easier.” It wasn’t just Freedman’s pitch, however. Wharton had spotted for himself the success Championship players had had in moving to south London. “That was one of the biggest factors for me.

      “Looking at Palace from the outside and seeing Marc [Guéhi], Ebs [Eze], Michael [Olise], seeing them do so well in the Championship and then move at an earlier age to Palace, and still being given that opportunity to show that they can do it in the Premier League, and helping them progress into international players.

      “There's not a lot of other clubs that do it and do it as well as Palace have in the recent years. So, if I was able to do the same as them, and progress like they have since coming in, why wouldn't I want to do it? They were given the chance to get minutes and prove themselves and get better. That's exactly what I wanted to do.”

      It’s exactly what Wharton is doing now, starting the last two games after making his debut from the bench, just a few days after arriving at the club. He had enjoyed a dress rehearsal earlier in the season, starring for Blackburn in the League Cup at Stamford Bridge.

      “The way I looked at it was that it was a chance for me to test myself against Premier League opposition,” he says of the game. “They've got really good players, spent a lot of money, so they're top players.

      “For me to be able to challenge myself whilst still being in the Championship against these better players, I thought it was a good way for me to see where I'm at in terms of the level that you have to be to play in the Premier League and where I was at that moment.

      “After the game, I thought I did quite well. The feeling I got after that game was I want to play against teams like that more often. I enjoyed the challenge of playing against better players, being a more tactical game, it being tougher to get forward over the pitch, things like that.

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      I enjoyed the challenge of playing against better players, being a more tactical game, it being tougher to get forward over the pitch.

      Adam Wharton

      “I've got the experience that I wanted to keep playing in games like that, keep challenging myself to get better. That's what I took from that game. I think with a lot of players, when you play against top opposition like that, there's always going to be people watching. It's always a chance to impress.

      “Playing against them and seeing what I'm able to do against them, I knew I could step up to the challenge. If I was to move to the Premier League, I'd be able to try and accept that challenge and take it in my stride and help me progress.”

      While Wharton’s first taste of Premier League opposition was at Stamford Bridge, his first indoctrination into the beautiful game came against Chelsea – this time in the North West. “My first ever game was as a mascot with Danny Simpson against Chelsea in 2008 at Ewood Park,” he remembers. “That's the earliest memory I've got of going to a game. Obviously, going is one thing, but being able to walk out and see the players in the tunnel, it's just a great experience for any kid.”

      While some footballers enjoy playing but could not be described as football fans in their spare time, Wharton was immediately hooked. “The whole family are Blackburn fans,” he explains. “They were always a top team: Roque Santa Cruz, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Chris Samba, Jason Roberts, Benjani, Paul Robinson. It was good to watch them and learn from them growing up.

      “When I was really young, I would go to Ewood Park in the upper tier of the family end. As I got a little bit older, I used to think I was one of the cool kids, so I'd go in the Darwen End. Half of the Darwen End used to be home and then half used to be away.

      “All the noise came from the home fans in the Darwen End when I was starting to get a little bit older. I used to think I was cool and a little hooligan trying to start the chants. Then, as I grew a bit older and I was more involved in the academy, we were able to get tickets to go into the Jack Walker Stand, which is the main stand.”

      With two footballing older brothers, Wharton had to learn to fend for himself – not just in the stands but in the back garden and on the pitch too. “It was obviously a lot of fun,” he says. “It helped having two older brothers who enjoyed playing as well. It helped me get into it to begin with, and then always have someone to play with. It did get competitive a bit at times, but there's nothing wrong with that.

      “I was always quite small as well growing up. You are always at a disadvantage, but I think in a way it helps you because you're always battling physically against bigger people, so you get used to it. Once you get used to it, then when you come up against it in games, you've already done it before, so you know what to do and how to beat it.”

      Wharton has certainly looked at home at the highest level. It’s clear that his Premier League debut is just the start; what he wants more than anything is to play in the biggest and best games. “It's a great achievement. It’s something I've wanted to do since I started playing football. I think that's what most kids want to do.

      “It's the best league in the world. All the top players play there, so I'm delighted to make my debut and play. I just want to keep playing. I've got the taste of it. I want to just keep playing in those types of games.”

      At just 20-years-old, Wharton has graduated from the terraces and the back gardens to facing the best teams in the world in some of the biggest stadiums, but nothing has phased him yet.

      It may have taken Palace years of patiently waiting for the perfect time to bring him to south London, but with his hunger for more pushing him on every day, it could be worth it for the years of golden moments to come.