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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Adam Wharton: The Crystal Palace star who has gone from the Championship to the brink of Euro 2024

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Alex Scott, Keane Lewis-Potter, Harry Souttar and Joao Pedro all made the step up from the Championship to the Premier League in recent seasons, but have struggled to match the form that made Bournemouth, Brentford, Leicester and Brighton splash the cash for them.

Scott was labelled by Pep Guardiola as an “unbelievable player,” after Bristol City’s FA Cup tie against Manchester City. Lewis-Potter starred in his final season at Hull City scoring 13 goals. Souttar was one of Australia’s best players in the Qatar World Cup before a £15m move from Stoke to Leicester, while Brighton broke their record transfer fee to sign Pedro.

Adam Wharton of Crystal Palace passes the ball against Newcastle United (Getty Images)

They have only had fleeting moments in their Premier League beginnings, something that can’t be said about Crystal Palace’s most recent Championship addition Adam Wharton, who has not just settled well since switching Blackburn for south London but was one of Oliver Glasner’s best performers at the end of the season.

Now Wharton has been selected for England’s provisional Euro 2024 squad, showing just what England manager thinks of his progress.

His rise to recognition was epitomised by his performance during the Eagles’ 4-0 thrashing of Manchester United. Up against Kobbie Mainoo, Wharton’s skill in midfield allowed the likes of Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze to excel, with his sublime forward passing.

Palace won three games in a row for the first time under the Austrian, before the United clash, and at the start of that streak at Anfield, against a title-pushing Liverpool, Wharton announced himself. It was a performance from the young midfielder who belied his age of just 20 years. Indeed, Wharton was playing in a 4-0 defeat against Huddersfield Town four months prior, but he has taken everything in his stride and is a quick learner.

In that 1-0 win, Wharton dealt with the intensity and aggression, and, in what was the biggest game he has played in his career to date, he looked unnerved on the ball, as he started the move that created Eze’s goal.

They followed that win up with convincing displays against West Ham and Newcastle, where again Wharton controlled the midfield battle against Lucas Paqueta and Bruno Guimaraes in both games, players linked with both Manchester City this season. And he was integral to a seven-game unbeaten streak to end the campaign.

As much as his great beginning has been down to his intelligence on the pitch, he also made a smart decision by choosing Crystal Palace as his next destination in his career, with Jurgen Klopp’s side, Everton and Newcastle United also reportedly interested in bringing him in.

Wharton was a needed asset for Roy Hodgson at a time when Cheick Doucoure’s injury in November left Palace with a gaping hole that needed filling. If he had joined Eddie Howe’s side, he would have had a tough time competing with Guimaraes for a starting spot, Amadou Onana is one of Everton’s star players, and the high pressure and standards at Liverpool can be a difficult environment for young players to grow.

In fact, there aren’t many better clubs for a young, exciting Championship talent to go to when they are looking to take their first steps into the Premier League. Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze have become Palace’s standout players since moving from Queens Park Rangers and Reading respectively.

Olise moved from Reading to Crystal Palace in 2021, and is beginning to gain interests elsewhere. (Action Images via Reuters)

Wharton isn’t at the level of his two forwards yet but has started almost every game since his £22.5m move, with his sole substitute appearance being his debut against Brighton. It was a difficult introduction after replacing Marc Guehi 28 minutes in, as his side lost 4-1 and he was partly at fault for Brighton’s third goal.

It was a rare mistake in his young top-flight career so far, but he has shown character to not just move on from it, but really stamp his authority on a Premier League midfield.

With Uefa increasing the squad size to 26 players for the Euros in the summer, it allows Gareth Southgate to bring in players with more unique skill sets. With England possessing a wealth of attacking options, the base of the midfield is a weaker position in comparison.

Eberechi Eze celebrates scoring their first goal with Adam Wharton and Joel Ward (Action Images via Reuters)

Declan Rice is Southgate’s trusted defensive midfielder but beyond him, there is a lack of depth with Jude Bellingham, Conor Gallagher, Jordan Henderson and Trent Alexander-Arnold more likely to work alongside the Arsenal midfielder rather than displace him.

Kalvin Phillips’ underwhelming loan spell at West Ham has left him unlikely to get back into England reckoning, and Mainoo, like Wharton, has been impressive since he was given a chance but is still relatively unproven.

Kobbie Mainoo has quickly established himself as an Old Trafford star (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Wire)

Southgate calling up the 20-year-old Wharton was a surprise, and it wouldn’t be controversial to leave him behind when the final cut is made, but he has given something Palace fans were desperately calling for.

“I don’t really think too much about that”, Wharton said a few weeks ago, claiming a place in Southgate’s squad in Germany would be a “bonus”.

In January, the travelling fans displayed a banner in a 5-0 loss to Arsenal reading: “Wasted potential on and off the pitch. Weak decisions. Taking us backwards.”

That message was shown nine days before Palace announced Wharton, and he has proven why Palace have made a great decision to choose him to lead their midfield. Southgate evidently agrees.

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