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Mitchell on the art of defending and the match that made him

Features

It was the moment Tyrick Mitchell had dreamed of: a first Premier League start as a Crystal Palace player. The experience itself was a chastening one.

“Actually starting against Wolves was a massive eye opener,” he admits. “In the Under-23s I would say not a lot of people can get past me. That was one thing I prided myself on.

“When I came up against [Adama] Traore, he was getting the better of me each time. It was humbling. That was one situation that taught me that I was still nowhere near my defending in the Premier League.

“You come up against so many different people: small fast players, big fast players, skilful players. So playing against Wolves was a massive turning point in my head. I can’t just walk out on the pitch and have everyone.

“Something needs to change, and I felt like after that match and after my season, I had definitely found my stride.”

Comfort came from the dugout, with Roy Hodgson providing Mitchell with the confidence and belief he needed to build on his first few appearances for the club.

“Wolves hurt me a lot, because I felt like I was nowhere near where I could be or should be,” he explains. “So after Wolves, [Roy] was always a positive voice in my ear, even though I was telling myself I wasn’t good enough at that moment in time.

“He was always like: ‘You’ve done well’. That was a massive part of my confidence – he gave me the confidence that no one was going to beat me, and every time people didn’t beat me, I got praised for it.

“I learned a load of stuff from Roy. He’s worked with some of the best clubs in the world, he’s a former England manager. So many legends he’s worked with, so he gave me something from the players he’s worked with – players that I am inspired to be like, to emulate.

“It was massive working with Roy, especially in the defensive aspect. In games it allowed me to be that person that is hard to get past.”

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After that match... I had definitely found my stride.

Tyrick Mitchell

Dealing with setbacks is something Mitchell has had to do on multiple occasions in such a short career. His progression at Brentford was halted when the Academy system was closed down.

“That was all I knew growing up,” he remembers. “All I knew was Brentford, it was like a family. It just closed suddenly and I was like: ‘Now I’m just a school pupil, I’m not someone in an Academy.’

“I don’t try to get ahead of myself, so a lot of my friends helped me and said: ‘That’s closed, but I’m sure there’s going to be another opportunity’, and when that opportunity came, I was going to take it.

“From the first meeting with Gary [Issott, Palace Academy Director], it was the plan: ‘We have these people in front of you, this person might go, this person will stay’. I prefer someone to tell me what it is.

“Tell me I’ve got to battle this person, or this person won’t be in the way. I feel like I’m a good judge of character. When people speak you feel their energy, you can feel that: ’Regardless of whether it comes tomorrow or in three years, I believe you.’

“That was the kind of vibe I got with Gary, and here we are today.”

On the fringes of the first-team, Mitchell suffered injury setback. It was another hard blow to take.

“It was extremely difficult – that was probably the hardest moment of my life at Palace,” he explains. “That was my first pre-season tour with the first-team. I felt like I was getting to know the players, getting to know the manager more, getting more confident.

“Then, literally, it was the first game and it was just gone like that. I tried to play on but I knew it was not going to work. I couldn’t continue. I felt like all the trust I had built up had gone within the first 30 minutes of a game, so I was back to square one.

“In a Premier League team it’s not easy to go all the way back to zero. Especially when the [transfer] window is open, so many things are in play. That was massive.

“But little things the first-team did for me – the physio, the manager, everyone – just gave me that belief that: ‘Cool, it’s a massive setback, but I know they still trust me. I know my body will get used to it, my body will overcome it and I know I’ll get my chance.’

“I wouldn’t expect the manager to come into the physio room, but every now and then he would come in and speak to me and say: ‘How are you? How is your recovery going? Is everything alright?’

“So that showed me that I was closer than I thought I was. I’m nowhere near where I want to be, but this kind of injury is just a setback.”

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When I block a cross, it just boosts me to go again and again.

Tyrick Mitchell

But recover he did, and soon that Wolves performance was behind him. Defending became like an art form to be perfected – and Mitchell lived off the successes that came with it.

“From what I can remember, in Academy life I was always a left-back or a defender,” he says. “Some people get thrills off nutmegging people, beating them, scoring.

“For me, I like to think when I get on the pitch: ‘I have that person. That person couldn’t get past me. That person had to change wings. The manager had to sub that person.’

“That’s a massive boost for me knowing that: ‘I’m up against that person today. He’s played well in the last match and now in the 60th-minute he’s getting substituted.’ You don’t get subbed when you’re playing well.

“When I see someone change wings, when I block a cross, it just boosts me to go again and again. That’s a massive thing for me.”

Now the latest name on the list of successful Palace Academy products, Mitchell looks with admiration at the new facilities available to young players.

“It’s an amazing facility – it’s one of the best ones I've seen in England, let alone London,” he says admiringly. “Especially because you don’t really get a lot of good training grounds in London. But this one is amazing.

“As a young player going into that… normally you want to play against Chelsea and Arsenal to go and see training grounds of that level: to be around it, to be in the changing room. But having one here is amazing, especially in London. I won’t be surprised if the whole of south London end up playing for Palace.

“I think there is going to be a massive production of players coming through. The coaching was already there, the family aspect was already there. The only thing that other clubs in London beat Palace on was the facility.

“Now that facility is ten out of ten, there is nothing you can’t get at Palace that you could get at another club. In the next five to 10 years, the proof will be in the pudding. You’ll see how many players come through.

“It’s an exciting time.”