Football Dreams: The Academy for new talent

Thursday: Football Dreams: The Academy - (Channel 4, 9pm)
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The Premier League is the richest football league in the world, and millions of boys dream of plying their trade in the sport and becoming professional footballers.

Nowhere other place in Britain has the power to change a young person’s life as rapidly and as dramatically as a football academy.

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However, only a very small percentage of those who enter the system actually make the big time, with a very select few given a key to the high life, and earning in excess of £40,000 per week if they can prove themselves worthy of a coveted place in the Eagles’ first team.

The Palace academy is one of the most prestigious football academies in the countryThe Palace academy is one of the most prestigious football academies in the country
The Palace academy is one of the most prestigious football academies in the country

The others fall by the wayside and find themselves back where they started.

This six-part documentary series, from the team behind Educating Yorkshire and Royal Marines Commando School, looks at the unique relationships between the staff, players and their families at the South London-based Crystal Palace FC Academy to reveal the work that goes in to developing the next generation of footballing talent.

Over 12 months, cameras follow an extraordinary group of teenagers, most from some of the most deprived parts of the UK, who are determined to keep their footballing aspirations and dreams alive.

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Constantly assessed and analysed, the academy is a test not just of the players’ ability but also their character, as the coaches struggle to shape them, make them or release them.

One of the most prestigious football academies in the country, the Palace academy has developed established Premier League stars such as Wilfried Zaha and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, as well as the current England manager Gareth Southgate and former Premier League winner Victor Moses.

Thirty two players have come through the academy ranks in the last 14 years, making more than 1,000 appearances for the club.

The top-flight club recently invested £20m upgrading its academy, with a major expansion of football facilities and an increased focus on welfare provision and education for players to give them the best possible preparation for life on and off the field.

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Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish said: “Our academy has a rich history in developing world-class footballers, and we are acutely aware that South London has one of, if not the, best footballing talent pools in the world.

“Having recently invested millions in a state-of-the-art facility upgrade, achieving elite Category 1 status for our academy in the process, we are extremely excited to take viewers behind the scenes at an elite football institution, as we aim to identify, attract and develop the next generation of Crystal Palace footballers.”

In this first edition, we meet Kairo, Kayleb and Bola, three 11-year-olds who have grown up together and played with each other since they were five years old. But now the trio face a decision that could split up their tight-knit friendship group. Only the most elite players will progress from the under-12s, and while Kairo is clearly excelling, the academy coaches have concerns about Kayleb and Bola which could lead to a heartbreaking decision.