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From making the numbers as a defender to living the dream – The Aaron Wan-Bissaka Journey

Aaron Wan-Bissaka joined Crystal ​Palace as an 11-year-old, he was brought up as a winger as he loved to score goals for fun he continued to feature in that role all the way up until the Under-23’s when he got converted to a defender for a first team training session just to make up the number, less than 2 years later he’s joined Manchester United for £50m- the most expensive deal in football history for a player who has less than 50 senior appearances.

At the age of 14, Wan-Bissaka striving to make his mark at a club brimming with wingers started getting caught up in a number of misdemeanours, turning up late to training or missing the sessions completely, the club began losing patience with him and almost let him go.

In the 16/17 season while playing for Crystal palace youth team, the striker was asked to take part in a first-team training session to make up the numbers. With the club boasting a host of strikers at the time, Wan-Bissaka was asked to fill in as right back and that marked the beginning of his conversion. The then first-team coach, Kevin Keen was impressed with the way he succeeded in nullifying Wilfried Zaha.

Though, When he played is first competitive game as a defender he didn’t enjoy the experience “I really didn’t enjoy it. I couldn’t express myself going forward, the defending was all new, and I came away thinking: ‘This isn’t me.’

But wan Bissaka did not quit, he had to take on double training sessions with Under-23 coach Richard Shaw and his assistant Dave Reddington to improve his defensive skills.

In 17/18 season, as an unused fourth-choice right-back, he had pushed for a move to League Two. He said, “There was interest from League Two in a loan but towards the end of the window nothing had happened and I was panicking. I asked  [Mark Bright, the club’s director of under-23s’ development] to put the question in, and he came back saying the manager wanted to see me. I went in on my day off, just before the first team were training.

“I was in the changing-room for 30 minutes, waiting, only for [Hodgson] eventually to come in and say he didn’t feel I’d benefit from the type of football I’d play at that level, and that I should stay and learn. I was a bit upset because I’d really wanted to go. I just didn’t see myself playing any time soon. But he actually made me put my kit on and train then and there.”

One month later it took an injury to one of the defenders, to offer an opportunity to become the first academy graduate to make his debut for the senior side for 2,148 days against Tottenham. “On the day before the game with Tottenham Hotspur I’d counted up there were 19 of us training, including two other under‑23s, so I was sure I’d make the bench. We all piled into the analysis meeting where they put the lineup up on the whiteboard. I’d always scan the bench first, at the bottom, because I’m realistic. But I wasn’t on it. I was gutted. I don’t know who tapped me on the shoulder first, but that made me look at the top of the list and there I was, second down, at right-back.

“Spurs, Christian Eriksen … the first thing that went through my mind was it was going to be a long afternoon. But the manager clearly had faith in me. My aim has always been to make him proud because he gave me a chance. I went to bed earlier than usual that night, and was buzzing until I got to the ground on match day. Then, 10 minutes before kick-off, the nerves kicked in until the first tackle. It was on Ben Davies. He cut in-field away from me and kept running, but I don’t think he knew I had such long legs. I chased him down, slid in and took the ball to set up a counter. I wasn’t shy. I never looked back from that…”

Aaron wan bissaka who almost settled for less due to impatience, became the defender with the highest number of tackles in the 2018/2019 premier league season. He made 129 successful tackles averaging around 3.7 per game and only behind midfielders Idrissa Gueye and Wilfred Ndidi.

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2019-07-18