Aaron Wan-Bissaka opens up on his Crystal Palace rise and a life-changing 2018

Rewind back to January and Aaron Wan-Bissaka was left disappointed when his hopes of a loan were dashed and preparing to just play for Crystal Palace’s under-23s.

Little did he know Roy Hodgson had much bigger plans for him.

And now he is trying to get his head ahead around being hailed on Match of The Day and excited, autograph-hunting youngsters turning up on his doorstep.

Life has changed dramatically during 2018 for rising Premier League starlet Wan-Bissaka.

And his first national newspaper interview is timely, taking place the morning after he was showered with praise by pundit Alan Shearer for his man-of-the-match display against Arsenal .

Right-back Wan-Bissaka, 20, said: “It is the second time that has happened. It makes me feel proud of what I am doing.

Wan-Bissaka plays with defensive responsibility and a sense of adventure
(Image: REUTERS)

“The first time was this season after Fulham , the first game, after the assist I got. I’ve never seen myself on Match of the Day before so it was good.

“With more I’ll be used to it, maybe once more, but I like to see it.”

The frenzy when local hero Wan-Bissaka returns home has also taken some getting used to.

2018 has been a life-changing year for the youngster

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, they run straight to my house and keep knocking.

“Even if my dad [Ambrose] says ‘he is sleeping’ they’ll wait for me until I leave. At the same time it is good, I like it. I once looked up to someone like that, the way they look at me now.

“The first time I was confused. Like ‘wow, how do they know I’m here?’

“They bring shirts, boots, balls and the thing is they’ll come, I’ll sign it and then they’ll go and tell other friends and keep coming, keep coming.

“They literally wait outside until night. So sometimes I have to come home late at night or when they are at school but a few will still catch me.”

Wan-Bissaka’s star is on the rise
(Image: Adidas)

Given his starring displays since his breakthrough, Wan-Bissaka’s Palace fan club will be among those relieved that the threat of him being released as a teenager eventually came to nothing.

“There have been ups and downs,” Wan-Bissaka said as he reflected on his rise at a shoot for the adidas Spectral Mode boot pack.

“At around 14, 15, I was turning up late, was lazy, wasn’t trying in training, looking tired.

“It was diet stuff too. After school it was chicken and chips, fizzy drinks, stuff like that.

“Other players were fitter, doing more than me and I was just slowly going down the pecking order.

Wan-Bissaka has adapted his game after impressing against Zaha in training
(Image: Getty Images)

“I was just drifting away with the wrong friends. There were times when I’d have training at seven and I’d be out with them before and it would make me late.

“Apparently Palace were looking to release me at 14 because of things like that. They didn’t tell me that but my dad did.

“My dad stopped me from seeing those friends. I was annoyed with him then but I realise now it was the right thing he did and I’m grateful for that.

“He said I can’t be wasting this opportunity and how he used to take me in the rain, every day bus. Sometimes he used to miss work.

“That hit me. The way he told me it was like he was serious. I felt his pain so the next season I fixed up and from then I’ve just been shooting up.”

Watching Wan-Bissaka look such a natural as a Premier League right-back now it is hard to believe he is relatively new to the position.

Wan-Bissaka made a problem position for the Eagles his own
(Image: Action Images via Reuters)

He joined Palace aged 11 as a prolific, Thierry Henry-idolising striker from south London youth football club Junior Elite and also played as a right winger coming through the ranks.

But one training session when he impressed up against Wilfried Zaha made those watching sit up and take notice.

Wan-Bissaka said: “He couldn’t really get past me and they [coaches and players] were saying things like ‘let him out your pocket’ and stuff like that.

“I didn’t laugh, I had to hold it in, and he was there as well [when they were saying things].”

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 his coaches after training, studied Brazilian right-back Dani Alves and “finally started to enjoy playing right back,” especially the opportunity to still use his attacking qualities from a defensive position.

The youngster studied Wan-Bissaka
(Image: AFP/Getty Images)

He added: “Even when I was a winger I liked defending. They say I have got long legs so that’s an advantage for me I use.”

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.

And he had no hesitation handing Wan-Bissaka a first-team debut against Tottenham and then follow-up starts against Manchester United and Chelsea .

As baptisms of fire go they don’t get much tougher but Wan-Bissaka passed all three tests with flying colours and hasn’t looked back.

Palace’s current run brings him full circle as he faces the same three sides he begun his career with back-to-back again – albeit in a different order – continuing with Spurs today.

The England under-21 defender said: “[Before those three games] I was pretty nervous. I felt like there was pressure on me.

“I don’t really think I was ready [to play at that level] but I was ready to give it my all and show the manager that I will give everything for him giving me this chance.

“I feel more confident going into the games against them now. I am looking forward to them.”

*Aaron Wan-Bissaka wears the adidas Nemeziz boots, available at https://www.adidas.co.uk/football