2 March ~ The page will turn on a frustrating chapter for Crystal Palace when Nathaniel Clyne's contract expires in the summer. The England Under-21 right-back is running down his current deal and it is believed only promotion will encourage him to re-sign. He will be missed but there is hope his drawn-out departure could be the final legacy of Palace's latest spell in administration. As the club lurched towards administration in January 2010, a lack of investment and prospects resulted in the departure of several young players – often for small fees.
As a direct result of administration, the much-hyped Victor Moses departed for Wigan for just £2.5 million, when he was on a run of six goals in nine games. Relegation from the Premier League in 2005 caused Wayne Routledge to leave for just over £1m. And missing out on promotion in 2008 eventually led to Ben Watson going for £2m.
Palace were also powerless to prevent 16-year-old John Bostock joining Tottenham Hotspur in 2008 for a tribunal-decided and derisory £700,000. Losing players to bigger clubs with more money and better prospects is nothing new. But last summer, Southampton received a reported £12m from Arsenal for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to add to the £12m for Theo Walcott in 2006 and £10m for Gareth Bale in 2007. Last summer Ipswich let Conner Wickham leave for Sunderland in a deal worth £8m.
Bostock moved far too soon. Billed as one of the country's brightest prospect, he now finds himself playing on loan at Sheffield Wednesday in League One. His story and that of the others now serves to strengthen manager Dougie Freedman's position as, emboldened by stability in the boardroom, he tries to protect his squad from predators. "Moses, Watson and Routledge are all average Premier League players," Freedman recently told the Times. "John Bostock is a sad story. But the next generation have seen where he went wrong."
Clyne is probably the best of that bunch, but by the time the new owners were in place and Palace could offer a deserved contract improvement and extension, it was too late. His star had risen to the point where he knew his next contract would be with a Premier League club. It looks increasingly likely that Palace will have to settle for the compensation due, as he is under 24 and a product of the club's youth set-up.
If Clyne's impending exit represents the final act in a gloomy period for Palace, then the latest youth-team products to break into the first team, Jonny Williams and Wilfried Zaha, offer glimpses of an exciting new era. Each signed long-term deals this season. Zaha shone in Crystal Palace's League Cup quarter-final victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford and, after he put pen to paper, Freedman defiantly proclaimed that Palace are now in a position to demand proper money for their players: "Now we are into the £10m quote and I feel that is where we belong. If someone wants to pay that money then the chairman will look at it. Until such a time, they are all on contracts and they are happy."
Notwithstanding the latent impact of the Elite Player Performance Programme, the club believe stability and security will protect Palace from being bullied over future transfers. Indeed, overtures worth a reported £7m for Zaha from Bolton Wanderers in the January transfer window were vocally rebuffed by Palace's co-Chairman Steve Parish. Palace could no longer be "kicked in the nuts" over transfers, he said.
Clyne will go with the good graces of the majority at Selhurst Park. He won the hearts of plenty of fans when, despite pressure from the administrators, he refused to even discuss an offer from Wolves. He was voted Player of the Year last season after playing every league game and his stock is such that electing to stay on holiday rather than collect the award in person did not even bring out the boo boys. Clyne is ready for the step up and has earned it. There are grounds for optimism that, next time, that the deal will be done on Palace's terms. David Jamieson