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Jesurun Rak-Sakyi: Crystal Palace's teenage goal machine who Chelsea let go

15:00 GMT+3 16/12/2021
Jesurun Rak-Sakyi NXGN GFX
The 19-year-old has been starring in English youth football over the past year, with top-flight clubs from around Europe now keen to take him on loan

It is a story that has been heard time and time again among football fans: the academy player who was released because they were too small, only for them to move on and make it to the top elsewhere.

And it is a path that Crystal Palace teenager Jesurun Rak-Sakyi is hoping to follow, with the early signs encouraging for the forward as he aims for his true first-team breakout.

One of the stars of English youth football over the past two seasons, Rak-Sakyi has racked up 35 direct goal contributions (20 goals, 15 assists) in 39 appearances across age-groups ranging from Under-18s to U23s.

His 10 goals and five assists in 13 Premier League 2 games so far this season has seen him twice nominated for the competition's Player of the Month, with the 19-year-old keen to prove those who doubted him earlier in his career wrong.

Rak-Sakyi was released by Chelsea in the summer of 2019, with the forward having gradually lost his place in a team which included Bayern Munich starlet Jamal Musiala and Juventus winger Samuel Iling-Junior, before he was left out of the squad altogether for the U16 Premier League Cup final win over Arsenal.

Chelsea liked Rak-Sakyi's technical ability, and when it came to deciding on the futures of players that summer, his was the final name to be cut, with the Blues citing concerns over his lack of size and strength.

Determined not to give up on his dream, Rak-Sakyi had trials at both Arsenal and Brighton before Palace were able to get a look at him close-up. They liked what they saw, and with Wolves next in the queue, the Eagles moved swiftly to offer the youngster a two-year scholarship.

His first 18 months in south London, however, proved difficult, as Rak-Sakyi again struggled physically, and Palace were considering not offering him a professional contract right up until he exploded in January 2021.

A run of 10 games in the U18s saw him score eight goals and provide nine assists, with pen put to paper on his first pro deal in April ahead of him making the first-team bench for Palace's final two games of the Premier League season.

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As well as having grown to a height of six foot (183cm), Rak-Sakyi has worked hard with his strength and conditioning coach, Michael Osei of Primed Athletes, to ensure that what has held him back previously does not come to the fore again as he takes the next steps in his career.

"He's quiet, humble and unassuming. He seems shy but he is confident deep down, and doesn't get over-excited," Osei (pictured below with Rak-Sakyi and his brother, Samuel) tells GOAL.

"He is so passionate and serious about what he does, with a father who is hands-on and influential in his career. He had just left Chelsea when I met him, and we had to work on the strength and balance.

"He isn't pushed over easily at all, and now he is knocking over his opponents. He has got even faster and more agile now, which is important for a winger.

"It helps that his brother is at Chelsea (Samuel plays for the Blues' U18s), and we train them together to get them competing against each other. Everything now is about getting Jes ready for first-team football."

Rather poetically, Rak-Sakyi made his Premier League debut from the bench against Chelsea on the opening day of the 2021-22 season, and was congratulated post-match by the Blues' academy bosses, as well as his current manager, Patrick Vieira.

“He’s a kid who spent pre-season with us and I was really pleased with what he’s been doing on the field," Vieira said of the youngster. "He’s a really lovely kid, a good dribbler and he can score goals as well. We have to work with him to try to help him.”

Part of helping Rak-Sakyi's development is deciding whether him continuing to dominate at U23s level is good for him anymore, or whether he would be better served playing men's football on a weekly basis.

That outing at Stamford Bridge remains Rak-Sakyi's only first-team appearance to date, with the likes of Wifried Zaha, Ebereche Eze, Michael Olise, Jordan Ayew and Odsonne Edouard all ahead of him in the pecking order when it comes to playing as a wide forward in Vieira's favoured 4-3-3 system.

There is interest in the England U20 international from clubs in the Championship, however, while top-flight sides in Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Belgium have also enquired as to whether he would be available for a loan move in January.

Palace do not want to lose Rak-Sakyi permanently, with them keen to eventually promote him into the first-team on a permanent basis, just as they have done with academy graduates Zaha, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Tyrick Mitchell in the past.

As such, a loan move would suit all parties if the right club can be found that will further allow Rak-Sakyi to flourish.

He is living proof that judgements over young footballers can be made prematurely, and Palace look set to reap the benefits.

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