December 2, 2023

His opening games were Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham, where you are almost putting him to sink or swim and he certainly learnt to swim.” – Roy Hodgson on Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

Injuries at right-back in February of 2018 meant Aaron Wan-Bissaka was rushed into the first team ahead of schedule against a Spurs team that were in full flight in February of 2018. He was introduced to the watching world as a winger that was now plying his trade as a right full-back, hence it was fair to make the assumption that the Spurs wingers would rip into him.

However, the young Englishman handled himself astutely, barely putting a foot wrong in a narrow 1-0 defeat to Tottenham. Since then his stock has risen with him being the first choice right-back at Crystal Palace, putting in performance after performance against the likes of Leroy Sane, Anthony Martial and Sadio Mane and nullifying their offensive threat to a large degree.

Funnily enough, growing up, the defender’s idol was one that would potentially be his toughest opponent had they played in the same generation, a certain Frenchman by the name of Thierry Henry, who had a knack of putting opposition full-backs in a tizzy spinning in of the left flank.

Wan-Bissaka attributes a lot of his attacking prowess down to idolizing Henry growing up, evident from the success rate of his dribbles.

So what makes the young full-back one of the hottest commodities in the Premier League? A player so good that he is being followed by all of England’s elite, whether it be Chelsea, Man United or Man City.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s biggest strength lies in his ability to win a tackle. In the Premier League this season, he makes 3.8 tackles a game with a 73%+ success ratio and commits only one foul every two games on average, an astonishing number for a full-back in this division.

That stat, however, arises from his pace and ability to make up ground on a winger. He also makes around 2.3 interceptions a game, showing that he has more than just the 1 on 1 defending ability. He gets dribbled past only 0.3 times a game.

His youth team coach Richard Shaw spoke about Wan-Bissaka’s willingness to learn in his formative years at Palace:

“He was very keen to learn, He’d come back out in the afternoons, after training, to work on his heading, his clearances, his delivery up to the front player. That wasn’t like Aaron when I first knew him. He had previously been happy to shoot off. But his persona changed.

“He was always a bit of a follower, getting into a bit of mischief with his mates, who were quite boisterous. But we kept on at him, telling him what it takes to be a footballer, asking him what he wanted to become and it began to click for him. He became more focused and before you knew it, he was training with the first team more often than not.”

This dedication clearly displays how much hard work he must have put in pre the positional switch from winger to full-back.

So much so, that from a winger that averaged several dribbles per game in the U23s to 80 tackles in the league 3 behind Idrissa Gueye, arguably the best retriever in the league it is fair to say his rise has been astronomical.

On the 83 occasions, an opponent has approached Wan-Bissaka with the ball this season, he has only been beaten 6 times, meaning he has an incredible success rate of 92.8% in these situations. (Until game week 23)

He has been at the club since he was 11, and with Roy Hodson at the helm, a master of the defensive side of the English game, the sky is the ceiling for Wan-Bissaka.
These graphics from September, comparing him to the average full-back are quite astonishing. Barring generating chances, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is not just competing with his seniors, he is showing them up in some style, playing for mid-table Palace. (But one point to keep in mind is that – a defender playing for a mid-table side is called into more defensive actions as compared to defenders playing for the top-6 sides, hence Wan-Bissaka’s high numbers are a result of a Palace side that is put under pressure by the opposition very often.)
Aaron Wan-Bissaka candidly spoke about his rise to stardom over the last few years:

“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.”

But it wasn’t always this rosy for the young full-back, his early years needed some solid introspection.

He would turn up late for training, drastically violate his diet plan by eating packaged goods and would look tired and poor in training, the alarm bells started ringing once he realized he was falling down the pecking order.

He recollected how things were spiralling out of control until his father stepped in.

“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, everyday 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.”

Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s best game in a Palace shirt came in their victory over the reigning Champions when they upset the apple cart and left the door open for current leaders Liverpool to snatch the league. Despite conceding twice, he dealt with arguably the fastest winger in the league, Leroy Sane. He made a total of 5 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 clearances and managed to make an important block as well. He made only two fouls and created one chance in that game as well.

Wan Bissaka

Whilst that might have been his best game against top quality opposition, Aaron Wan-Bissaka put in one of the shifts of the season against Watford. The full-back played almost as a right-sided wing-back as he marauded up and down the right flank like a man possessed. He had 78 touches, the second highest behind deep-lying playmaker Milivojevic, made 3 successful dribbles, got fouled a couple of times and was dispossessed only once. In defence, he made two blocks and 5 clearances in the game. He had an 88% passing accuracy and a 75% crossing success. His numbers look so good, but funnily enough, it was in a losing cause as the rest of the Palace side didn’t follow suit.

In international colours, he did turn out for the English U-21’s against the Dutch in a 0-0 game last year. He is yet to really showcase his talents on the world stage, but surely his time will come.

Physically Wan-Bissaka isn’t the tallest in the division or the strongest, however, his long legs enable him to win more tackles and to catch up to wingers that would ideally have broken free.

In conclusion, the youngster has developed leaps and bounds since making his debut and shown immense maturity to convert himself into a full-fledged right-back who can maraud up and down the flanks with ease and has the ability to recover a loss of possession due to his pace.

However he is more than just a road runner, the boy has the brains and the ability to go with it. All he is missing as of now is a creative spark and the ability to generate top quality delivery into the area, something that will surely improve in the years to come. With him and Trent Alexander Arnold at right full-back, England look secure for years to come on the right-hand side of the defence.

Image 1 via Extra Time Talk

Image 2 via Premier League


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