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‘Quick, fearless and direct’ – the lowdown on Crystal Palace’s first deal in summer transfer window

BY EDMUND BRACK

Crystal Palace made their first signing of the summer transfer window by beating Manchester United, Monaco and Tottenham Hotspur to sign Derby County youngster Malcolm Ebiowei on a five-year deal.

Bermondsey-raised Ebiowei spent time at Chelsea, Arsenal and Rangers during his time in academy football.

After leaving Ibrox and joining Derby last season, the 18-year-old was fast-tracked to the first team under Wayne Rooney and, after a handful of substitute appearances, became a regular in the side towards the second half of their relegation campaign.

Rooney was forced to call upon Derby’s academy talent due to the club being placed into administration and deducted 21 points.

Richard Cusack, Derby County fan and content editor for Reach, spoke to the South London Press about what Crystal Palace fans can expect from Ebiowei.

“He blossomed into a key player in the second half of the season,” said Cusack. “When he initially joined from Rangers last summer, nobody really knew about him at all. He was one for the future, in many respects.

“The academy recruitment at Derby has been absolutely superb – not just developing local talent but also bringing players in from other academies. Ebiowei was one of those.

“Ebiowei quickly became a crowd favourite. He has a quick turn of pace, has lots of skill, and plays with a smile on his face.”

Ebiowei has represented Holland U15s and England at U16 level, while he made his debut for Arsenal’s U18 squad at the age of just 15.

The winger thrived, similar to many of the young players at Derby last season, under the management of Rooney. The ex-Manchester United and England legend heaped praise on Ebiowei following just his fourth start in the Championship.

“He was excellent all game – the best player on the pitch,” said Rooney following a 1-1 draw with Coventry. “It was one of the best performances I have seen from a young player, consistently for 90 minutes, in a long time.

“He deserved that because he has worked extremely hard. His attitude is incredible, he wants to learn, and he is an exciting young player. First of all, his attitude is very good.

“He has got an enormous amount of ability, he is brave, he will take the ball, he is not afraid to take players on, to get tackled, and to make mistakes. So he has got a really bright future.”

Asked why he thought Ebiowei came into his own last season, Cusack adds: “The pressure was off last season for everyone at Derby – it helped a lot of the players.

“The academy at Derby is a real success story, and it has been proven once again. I know Malcolm was only there for a year, but it takes a while for these players to come into their own, and he did exactly that.

“He’s someone with no fear – absolutely none at all. You looked at him and thought: ‘He’s going to be special’.

“It’s up to him now to realise his talent. A five-year deal at Palace is a big statement of intent from the club, and it’s down to him to knuckle down because he can have a really good future.

“When Palace fans watch him live, they will realise that he is direct, he is quick, and he is completely fearless.”

Ebiowei made a total of 16 appearances and recorded three goal contributions in his short stint in the Derby first team.

Cusack said: “He needs to work on his end product, but he has got it. What he does is he scares the life out of defenders – he really does.

“One thing I would say is that the highlight clips can look great, but it’s all about putting together a 90-minute performance.

“He is only young. Derby had a lot of young players last season, and it was hard for them to put a consistent run of form together, but he [Ebiowei] only needs a couple of moments to really create an opening and create chances.

“The Premier League will be really different [for him], but he has a low centre of gravity, has the ability to stop the ball dead,  get the opponent flat-footed and then push past him.

“He has got a lot of tricks up his sleeve. He loves to get a the better of his opponent and get into their head a little bit, whether that be with a flip-flap or a nutmeg. There is a lot to like about him.”

The Eagles have made a habit of plucking the best young Championship talent in recent transfer windows, with Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise, Nathan Ferguson and Marc Guehi all impressing in the second tier before the South Londoners snapped them up.

Ebiowei has gone from playing U18 football to having top clubs in Europe battling for his signature in the space of six months.

“It can be a double-edged sword,” explained Cusack of Ebiowei’s rapid rise in a Derby team faced with constant financial challenges.

“The pressure was off last season, but you still have to go out and perform as a player.

“It’s going to be different at Palace because his contract isn’t up – he isn’t playing for a move. So it’s up to him to make sure that he can show that he has got the ability to make a career of it in the long term.

“He’s also not guaranteed a starting role. The transfer embargo at Derby last season meant that it was young players or nothing really for Rooney, whereas now he has got to get past the likes of Eze and Wilfried Zaha.

“It’s going to be tricky for him, but I am really looking forward to seeing how he gets on.”

Palace also signed fellow Derby County youngster Luke Plange last winter but loaned him back to the Rams so that he could help in their fight for Championship survival.

“The one thing that is sure is that they [Plange and Ebiowei] are both very different players,” said Cusack.

“Plange is a striker and the player who will run the channels and be a finisher, while Malcolm is a tricky winger who has got an awful lot to offer.

“I am really excited about Malcolm, though. He will be a real asset in the Premier League.”

Palace boss Patrick Vieira drip-fed Olise, who joined from Reading last summer for £8million after winning the Young Player of the Season award and arrived with a slight back injury, into Premier League life.

The U21 French international only made two starts in the Premier League before mid-January, with the FA Cup run the catalyst for Vieira trusting him with a starting spot consistently in the side. When asked whether he believed this would be the best course of action for Ebiowei’s development, Cusack said:

“There was a lot of talk online from Derby fans about how Palace will use Ebiowei. I don’t see him going out on loan – he’s too good for that and definitely too good for League One. I don’t think he will benefit from U23 football either.

“He will be kept around the bench and squad, maybe make a few appearances late on in games and then play in the cup competitions.

“Don’t forget that he will be playing and training Premier League football every day as well.

“We’re gutted to have lost him. Palace are doing their job by recruiting the best players. Derby have done it to other teams.

“I’m just glad that he’s gone to a club where they can manage his expectations a little bit, and not Manchester United, perhaps.”

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