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Clyne: The fans love seeing homegrown talent running at Selhurst

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If there’s one man who knows Crystal Palace’s journey, it’s Nathaniel Clyne. Progressing as part of the youth-filled squad that prevented collapse in 2010 and returning to an established Premier League outfit with a world-beating Academy, the full-back has seen both sides. Here, he tells the matchday programme how the next generation can learn from his story.

There’s a unique parallel between Nathaniel Clyne and two of his younger peers today. Like Tyrick Mitchell and Tayo Adaramola, Clyne joined Crystal Palace a little later in his development. Mitchell moved at 16 when the Brentford Academy closed, Adaramola made the switch from playing in Ireland, and Clyne swapped lengthy commutes to Tottenham Hotspur for short bus trips to Beckenham.

The three all changed or settled on positions while with Palace, developed through the Academy with no loan spells and went on to make their professional debuts in red and blue.

Adaramola continues to split his time across the Under-23s and first-team, but when he crosses the road for training, the three full-backs hone their craft as ball-playing, high-pressing cogs in Patrick Vieira’s machine.

You can add international acclaim to that list, too, with Clyne notching 14 senior England caps, Mitchell recently earning his first call-up and Adaramola taking to the turf with the Republic of Ireland Under-19s.

The difference between them? Where Clyne and Mitchell developed in portacabins across various sites, Adaramola has recently enjoyed one of the finest facilities in England.

“It seems like a lot of full-backs have been breaking through the Palace Academy,” Clyne says one day after training, perched on a boot box in the kit room. “We’ve been making a lot of good full-backs.

“You can see over there in the Academy a lot of money has been spent and it’s taken the Academy to the next level. It’s very good for young players to develop and it’s great for the Academy. Hopefully we can get more and more talented young players coming through, and hopefully keeping them – not going to the let’s say ‘bigger’ clubs. Hopefully that will help.

“I would have loved to have facilities like that. Credit to them and credit to Palace for building it.”

By virtue of growing up in south London, Clyne – and Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze and Marc Guéhi alike – is often asked why this half of the capital produces such a density of talent. That talent – Jadon Sancho, Emile Smith Rowe and Tammy Abraham to name just three – often moves to other, larger clubs. More recently – the above figures to name just three – they’ve opted for SE25.

Clyne may have been asked a lot, but his answer is no less considered: “South London is a big area and there are loads of young, quality players out there. I also think being streetwise helps. There are loads of cages in south London and that’s tight spaces which helps people’s development.

“With Palace being in south London and the facilities we have, hopefully we can get all the best players from south London and not let them go off to other academies.

“Showing we are bringing through players to the first-team will definitely have it in the youngsters’ mind that: ‘Okay, look, Palace are bringing through Academy players to the first-team, so if I go there I can get a chance.’ That’s a big thing.

“When I was watching players that were similar to my age, they were getting in: John Bostock, Sean Scannell, Victor Moses. When you see players you’ve played with make it through to the first-team, that’s the biggest eye-opener you can get.

“They were once with you, but now they’re there. If they can be there, I can be there. That’s the way you see it.”

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They were once with you, but now they’re there. If they can be there, I can be there. That’s the way you see it.

Nathaniel Clyne

Like Clyne followed Moses, Zaha followed him; Jonny Williams followed Zaha; Mitchell, Aaron Wan-Bissaka; and, today, Adaramola could emulate Mitchell.

The club’s pathway has long been evident, and currently means youngsters stepping-up have three regular first-team players who’ve made the exact same journey.

Clyne is one of them, and while he says he prefers to set an example through his conduct rather than his words, the 31-year-old has plenty of experience to draw upon. So his assessment carries weight:

“Tyrick Mitchell’s been doing magnificently well. He’s always first on the teamsheet, and rightly so with his performances. He’s defending well, he’s getting forward also and is doing what you ask of a full-back. He’s fit, he’s played every single game and is improving and improving.

“For Tayo coming through, what better than to have Tyrick right in front of him? Someone who’s young, and he could learn from him to see how he’s gone into the first-team and how he’s conducted himself playing with first-team players. It’s good for both of them to be battling for that position.”

But it’s not just Mitchell and Palace’s Academy cohort who developed in 2021/22, with Clyne’s attacking style more finely tuned than ever.

He started playing as a forward and settled into defence due to his hunger for tackling, which meant he was, initially, very much a defender’s defender: it was all about tackling. Now, you’ll find Clyne high up the wing, with the ball regularly at his feet.

“Clyney likes to overlap, to go forward. This is his strength,” says manager Patrick Vieira. “Clyney is a bit more the profile of Tyrick. They both like to go forward.”

Clyne agrees, saying the game’s changing demands have shaped his approach: “When I first started playing in defence it was more about the full-back having to defend against your winger. It’s always about: don’t let the winger get the best of you.

“As the years have gone on the game’s changed and it’s more demanding for the full-back to get forward and provide assists and be a threat going forward. Sometimes in teams there are a lot of wingers that come inside, play in the No.10 position and then it makes the full-back have to push up wider, like a winger themselves. That’s how the game has changed.

“I actually prefer it because I think it’s more entertaining. I think there are more goals, more attacks. Everyone’s attacking, so it’s definitely more enjoyable from a neutral point of view and for myself, because I like to attack and try to get forward to help out.”

It’s not just wider football that’s evolved, it’s changed at Palace, too, with Vieira encouraging his full-backs to express themselves.

“He just says to get forward whenever possible,” Clyne reveals. “Obviously he gives us the licence to get forward. We do have a lot of possession as well, so it gives the full-back time to make the forward runs and get into attacking positions. That helps a lot.

“I’d say it’s a bit different from last season, the style the new manager wants us to play. We see the ball more, it’s more about having possession and pressing higher up the pitch to try and win the ball back as quickly as possible. It’s more on the front foot, which is my game.

“I like to use my pace and I like to be in possession of the ball, try to create chances and do the best I can for the team.”

There’s one more parallel to draw with Clyne and his current teammates, but it isn’t one you’d guess. In fact, when Marc Guéhi first captained Palace against Watford in February this year, few people across the fanbase could guess: the last captain younger than Guéhi? The answer: Nathaniel Clyne, against Leicester City in January 2012. He was 20 years, eight months and 28 days old.

We ask: Do you remember being captain against – we falter – “Leicester,” Clyne interjects immediately. “I remember that.”

He continues: “I didn’t know I was the youngest but, yeah, looking back I must have been. It was only for one game, though. It was still a big thing; I didn’t know the procedures of being captain. I had to, at the start of the game – I don’t know if they’re still doing it now – go and see the referee, speak to the referee. The referee tells you about the game and you meet the opposition captain.

“Then you go to the middle of the pitch, walk your team out in front of the crowd and it gives you a buzz... You have to stand in the middle of the pitch, flip a coin and pick which side you want from kick-off. It was all new to me, but I enjoyed it. We did lose, unfortunately!”

Clyne modestly knocks away any notion he was picked as captain for his leadership traits. (“Maybe I was at the club longest,” he says, and “the captain was probably injured and vice-captain injured or suspended.”) But his wearing the armband draws our final parallel: Guéhi is another young south Londoner in the first years of his career entrusted by the club to lead it.

The similarities with his earliest professional days aren’t lost on Clyne: “It helps having a manager that’s interested in bringing through players from the Academy. So it’s definitely good and definitely helps and it’s positive for Crystal Palace. The fans love seeing homegrown talent coming in and making their debut and pulling on the Palace shirt to run at Selhurst Park.”