BY SAM SMITH
Richard Shaw has compared the mentality of 17-year-old Crystal Palace striker Rob Street to a young Ian Wright.
The club’s U23s boss believes Street’s desire to succeed as a professional footballer is borne out of his grassroots football experience. The former defender says there are similarities to his ex-teammate Wright, who signed for the Eagles in 1985 from semi-professional Greenwich Borough, for whom he played after a spell in South London’s Sunday League circuit.
Street was a latecomer to the professional academy environment having previously only played grassroots football. He made his U23 debut last season, scoring a brace against Colchester United at Selhurst Park.
Shaw said: “That [grassroots] is exactly where his [Street’s] mentality comes from. I was lucky enough to be involved in a Palace academy where we watched the first training session that Ian Wright had at the Mitcham training ground. He was 21 and he had come in on trial. He ripped the place apart, he ripped it.
“I remember sitting there as a kid, I was an apprentice at the time, and I remember thinking ‘that guy has so much hunger and desire’. And then when I got into the first-team environment, I remember he had me and [John] Salako coming in on days off to feed him balls. He would hit 500 balls into an empty net.
“He was so desperate to succeed and had missed out on the academy football, so he thought ‘it’s catch-up time for me’. I can only relate to Ian Wright because I saw him first hand, but I see it now in Rob.
“I look at his make-up and I know Rob Street will come out of training, he will have me out there until 10 o’clock at night serving him balls. I know the character he is. You can see the characters with the ones now, I can see the ones who might fall by the wayside.
“Rob will have a career. Whatever level, don’t know. But his attitude is a real sheer bloody-mindedness.”
Players are now often signed by professional academies as early as eight and nine years old, but Shaw believes there are aspects of football that can only be learnt at grassroots level. He would like to see players signed by clubs later so they can experience different levels of football.
“Yes, I do [think players should be signed later]. When I was a kid, it was nice to experience the different levels of football you can play and to enjoy it as a youngster. They shouldn’t have the pressure of winning games at eight or nine. No chance. They should be enjoying playing football.
“I had the opportunity to train one night at Chelsea, one night at Southampton, one night at Palace and one night at the old Wimbledon. I enjoyed the experience of training with different clubs, I enjoyed the experience of playing for my school, I enjoyed the experience of playing for my county.
“I enjoyed playing with different players, different tactics, different techniques, it actually helps your development. You can get into the system and sometimes everything is done for you. The boots turn up, everything is done for you. You’re not really fighting, you’re all good mates – you won’t call each other out because you’re all really good friends.
“I watch quite a bit of non-league. I like it, it takes me out of my comfort zone. I’ll go and watch Sheerwater reserves play on a pitch where there is dog rubbish everywhere, bins everywhere. The warm-down is a fag and a pint of beer on the pitch.
“But, oh my god, the desire. I would love to take my group to go and watch Sheerwater reserves on a Saturday and watch them warm-down with a fag in their mouth. But, just listening to them talk, and the sheer determination to win a game, well, is incredible.
“Our academy guys could learn so much from that. Just the sheer sense of ‘this is what it takes, enjoy what you do’. The fact that they really want to make it, instead of having too much too soon.”