Eagles must keep vultures at bay
Crystal Palace face a fight to hold on to their young heroes of Old Trafford in tough economic times
Even as they toasted the fairytale on Wednesday night, Manchester United vanquished at their feet and Old Trafford's complimentary champagne in their hands, Crystal Palace's recent history is such that it was inevitable that the thoughts of those tasked with safeguarding the club's future should soon turn to finance.
After all, for a team rescued from the clutches of administration less than 18 months ago, a 2-1 victory over Sir Alex Ferguson's side to claim a place in the Carling Cup semi-finals against fellow Championship outfit Cardiff does not just offer the prospect of a trip to Wembley. In success lies security, and with Glenn Murray's goal in extra time, Dougie Freedman's team may just have won it.
"This victory is going to put a lot of money in the bank for us," said the 37-year-old, in his inaugural managerial job, a man who travelled north intending to quiz Ferguson how to inculcate a culture of hunger in his squad. "It is difficult in these tough economic times, but this might make me hold on to one or two players in January. I want to keep this team together because I have worked very hard over the last 18 months with young players." His chief executive, Phil Alexander, said: "I don't know how much this is worth financially to us exactly, but will it make the difference if the clubs come after our talent in January? Absolutely."
That, of course, is the bittersweet masochism of unexpected cup success. With every sweep of iridescence from Wilfried Zaha, every thrusting run from Sean Scannell, every assured tackle from Nathaniel Clyne, their value increased, their appeal exploded.
Palace's troubled recent past, combined with their nurturing nature, has seen the club entrust their future to the youth of their south London home. Gary Issott's academy has allowed young players, the likes of Clyne, Zaha and Jonathan Williams to develop away from the limelight, securing first-team football at a young age. "It is better for them to be here," Issott told The Independent before the game. "Our first team is of a higher standard than a Premier League's reserve team." His conviction was borne out at Old Trafford.
It is a mutually beneficial arrangement. In exchange, Palace have a constant supply of players aware of the style that is required from them once they do reach the first team. They can, according to Issott, protect the club's identity. The danger of victory against United was that, with the vultures hovering, the virtuous circle would be broken, the money too good to turn down, Palace's identity lost as its exponents depart for diverse destinations.
Instead, as Darren Ambrose observed, such an experience will serve to stiffen his young team-mates' resolve. "I hope the funds keep this team together," he said. "We have some fantastic players, and this did not faze them at all. It will stand them in good stead."
Not just for if chairman Steve Parish – who rescued the club he has supported all his life in August 2010 – should be granted his wish of a final against Liverpool, of course, but for further, more distant challenges.
"We could have made more money out of [Manchester] City or Liverpool [in the semi-final] but it would be amazing to get to Wembley," he said. "Kenny [Dalglish] was Liverpool's manager when we beat them 4-3 [in the 1990 FA Cup semi]. You never know. That would be a fairytale." That part is already secure. Their fantastical present safe, Palace can start dreaming about the future.
Gary Neville said Darren Ambrose scored the best goal against United at Old Trafford in 20 years. We choose our top 10 in the gallery above
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