®Êby ADRIAN KAJUMBA
BACK in January, after his hopes of a loan move had collapsed, Aaron Wan-Bissaka was preparing to play for Crystal Palace’s Under-23s.
Now he is trying to get his head around being hailed on Match of The Day and autograph-hunting youngsters turning up on his doorstep.
Life has changed dramatically during 2018 for rising Premier League starlet Wan-Bissaka.
He has already been showered with praise by pundit Alan Shearer for his man-of-the-match performance in the 2-2 draw against Arsenal last month.
Right-back Wan-Bissaka, 20, said: “It is the second time that has happened. It makes me feel proud.
“The first time was after Fulham and the assist I got. I’ve never seen myself on Match of the Day before so it was good. When it happens maybe once more I’ll be used to it, but I like to see it.”
The frenzy when local hero Wan-Bissaka returns home has also taken some getting used to.
He said: “I have my own place but can’t really go to my parents’ house right now because every time I do the kids on the field, when they see my car pull in, run straight to my house and keep knocking.
“Even if my dad [Ambrose] says, ‘He is sleeping’ they will wait for me until I leave. The first time I was confused. Like, ‘Wow, how do they know I’m here?’. At the same time it is good. I once looked up to someone like that.”
Given his starring displays, Wan-Bissaka’s Palace fan club will be relieved the threat of him being released as a teenager came to nothing.
Speaking at a shoot for the adidas Spectral Mode boot pack, Wan-Bissaka said: “Around 14, 15, I was turning up late, was lazy, wasn’t trying in training, looking tired.
“I was just drifting away with the wrong friends and it was diet stuff too, after school, chicken and chips, fizzy drinks.
“Apparently Palace were looking to release me at 14. They didn’t tell me but my dad did and he sat me down and told me I have to fix up. The way he told me, he was serious. It hit me. I felt his pain so the next season I fixed up and from then I’ve just been shooting up.”
Watching Wan-Bissaka since his breakthrough it is hard to believe he is relatively new to the right-back position.
He joined Palace aged 11 as a Thierry Henry-idolising striker and also played right wing coming through the ranks.
But one first-team training session when he impressed against Wilfried Zaha made those watching sit up and take notice.
Wan-Bissaka said: “He couldn’t really get past me and they [players and coaches] were saying things like, ‘Let him out of your pocket’ and stuff like that.
“I didn’t laugh, I had to hold it in.”
Wan-Bissaka remembers one early right-back run-out for Palace’s Under-23s “not going well”.
But he stuck with it, put in extra work with coaches, studied Brazilian right-back Dani Alves and finally started to enjoy playing there, especially the chance to still use his attacking qualities from a defensive position. Boss Roy Hodgson noted Wan-Bissaka’s development too, which is why he kept hold of him when he asked to go out on loan in January.
He then didn’t hesitate to hand him his first-team debut against Tottenham and equally-daunting follow-up starts against Manchester United and Chelsea. Wan-Bissaka hasn’t looked back since.
Palace’s current run brings him full circle as he faces the same three sides he begun his senior career with back-to-back again – albeit in a different order – continuing with Spurs today.
The England Under-21 defender said: “I don’t really think I was ready [to play at that level before those three games] but I was ready to give it my all and show the manager I’ll give everything for him giving me this chance.
“I feel more confident going into the games against them now. I’m looking forward to them.”
Aaron Wan-Bissaka wears the adidas Nemeziz boots, available at https://www.adidas.co.uk/football
WAY TO GO: Dani Alves was a role model for Wan-Bissaka MAIN MAN: Wan-Bissaka stops Granit Xhaka in his man-of-the-match display against Arsenal last month