Yannick Bolasie’s journey to Premier League stardom has not been that of exponential growth, but rather a gradual, measured and consistent approach. From turning out for part time Hillingdon Borough near his North West London base, to an integral part of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s third place finish at this year’s African Cup of Nations, Bolasie has continually impressed with his unique style of dribbling and energetic performances. He is now gaining regular recognition by expert pundits and fans alike in one of the best (or certainly most competitive) leagues in the world.
The formative years
The man born in Lyon, and raised in London has plied his trade in diverse places from the semi-professional in Middlesex to the Maltese Premier League and the West Country. Leaving Hillingdon Borough and moving to Floriana in Malta as an 18 year old, by the time Bolasie signed for his current team Crystal Palace aged 23, he had accumulated over 100 starts and almost 50 substitute appearances. This may not seem astronomical at first glance, but these statistics average out at around 20 starts a season for the five years between ages 18 and 23. For the advancement of a player in these crucial formative years, 20 games a season does enough to ensure a learning curve whilst also not being too much as to put excess miles on the proverbial clock. These games were predominantly in Leagues One and Two, which can act as better experience than the reserve and youth teams of top flight clubs due to the physicality and playing in front of larger crowds. Indeed, the 2010/11 season saw a clear improvement in Bolasie as he played 35 times in League One for Plymouth Argyle, scoring 7 times. This elongated development process is paying dividends, much to the detriment of established Premier League defenders, as Bolasie’s unpredictability with the ball at his feet is a primary cause for concern for full backs.
Life as an Eagle
By August 2012 Bolasie’s dazzling performances in the Football League prompted transfer activity. His time in the West Country came to an end as he returned to his native London to join Ian Holloway’s Crystal Palace in the Championship. The season started poorly, but an upturn in form in September catapulted the South London outfit from the bottom to the summit of the league. They finished in 5th position and play-off wins over Brighton and Hove Albion and Watford saw Holloway’s team return to the ‘Promised Land’ after an eight year absence. Bolasie was a near ever present in that campaign, and this exposure to regular second tier football increased his development as a player. Crucially this came after a slight stunting at Bristol City where he was competing with winger and close friend, Ghanaian international Albert Adomah for minutes. The 2012/13 promotion campaign furthered Bolasie’s refinement from a rough diamond to a true Crystal gem, and from here, he was set to take on the big boys.
A Premier League player
August 2013. The man who nearly became a carpenter were it not for his move to Malta in 2007, is now a Premier League footballer. Surely this would be a step too far for the exuberant and extremely likeable Bolasie? Not at all, in fact it was just another chapter commencing of this almost fairy tale story. Close to having completed two full Premier League seasons, under four managers, Bolasie is still winning hearts and minds of fans up and down the country every week. His rapid acceleration and blistering top speed coupled with his gritty lower league-esque determination to press high and win the ball, equates to a defender’s worst nightmare. A firm fan favourite at Selhurst Park, not only do the Palace faithful appreciate Yannick’s impeccable work rate, but also his individual tricks and skills – leading to the coining of the phrase “The Bolasie Flick”. This piece of skill was notably seen against Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur this season, leaving Christian Eriksen red in the face.
Pundits, journalists, fans and even FIFA YouTubers are now using the hyperbole associated with modern day football stars and applying this more and more to Yannick Bolasie. His end product may sometimes be wayward, but his direct running and tricks put him in a position to cross or shoot so often that he will rectify the situation soon enough. Now a Palace centurion, Bolasie is an embodiment of a true bargain and the utility of learning your trade in the lower leagues. Purchased by Holloway for around half a million pounds, he is now valued at ten times this. Still only 25, Bolasie will be terrorising Premier League defences for the foreseeable future. Bad news for Bolasie’s opponents – his rise is still incomplete. This Eagle is yet to fully soar.