Yannick Bolasie is very free. Given that the Congolese’s path into the game meandered through the amateur leagues and the footballing backwater of the Maltese league, it’s little surprise that as a Premier League player he exudes joviality.
As someone who has ground his way to the top of the game he is evidently determined to express and enjoy himself now that he’s here.
That’s not an incidental quality and neither is it a kind way of saying that Bolasie has limitations; in his two-and-a-bit Premier League seasons, he has consistently shown himself to be among the division’s most dangerous players, blending sparky dynamism with eye-opening originality.
It was little wonder, then, that his Summer was full of innuendo and suggestion. Bolasie was supposedly of interest to a raft of clubs but Palace, presumably emboldened by the current television contract and determined to benefit from its successor, never appeared remotely interested in sale.
And, on Saturday morning, the club announced that the twenty-six year-old had signed a new three-and-a-half year contract extension on a deal which was due to expire in the Summer of 2017.
While the agreement ostensibly ties Bolasie to Crystal Palace for the foreseeable future, Alan Pardew was realistic in his assessment. In the modern day, contracts are more about protecting value than they are preventing sales, and Pardew knows that his role – between now and the point at which the club do decide to allow him to leave – is to maximise his value and smooth off some of his rougher edges.
“Yannick has just agreed a three-and-a-half-year extension to stay at this football club. I’ve said all along this guy needs to deliver the final moment and, when does that, he won’t be here for three-and-a-half years. So my first priority is to secure him and develop him. And if I can develop him and take this forward, that’s great. If a big club comes, we can take that money and use it to take the club forward.”
But if his departure is one of football’s cold, hard realities, then it’s worth mounting a case for Palace’s value to Bolasie beyond a simple stepping stone. In the future, he may well have the opportunity to join a European-qualified team and to grow his yearly earnings, but he shouldn’t underestimate the importance of his situation or fail to understand that, although his talent has determined his rise through the game, his situation in South London has bred the swagger that he’s known for.
Palace and Bolasie seem intertwined particularly tightly and his traits and habits appear perfectly suited to their current place within the hierarchy.
That’s a hard point to argue, because it’s built mainly on intangibles. It’s a theory which claims that the flourishes in Bolasie’s game are not only enabled by the team he plays for, but also rather emblematic of its personality. There’s a unorthodox, old-fashioned quality to his wing-play and Palace, with their throw-back ground, their vibrant support, and their ex-player-turned-manager are representative of qualities that are seeping out of the game.
That’s an under-emphasised synergy. Bolasie is the beneficiary of a series of harmonious relationships and one could argue that everything at Selhurst Park is conducive to his success. A manager who allows him to express himself; teammates who are pointed tactically towards his strengths; a crowd who are tolerant of his imperfections.
If that seems incidental, consider a contrasting scenario – one which will likely occur in his future. If Yannick Bolasie was to play for a side higher up the division, maybe one in Champions League contention, would his brief be the same or would that wonderful attacking freedom be restricted by a deference to defensive security? Would the crowd still applaud his ambition in possession, or would they quickly start to grumble about his final product and his pressing? And would he be an every-game player, or would he have to tolerate a bit-part role which chiselled away at his confidence?
It’s hypothetical, but that would seem to oppose what he stands for. Bolasie is a maverick footballer with more technical ability than he really knows what to do with, and that kind of player typically benefits from being in a forgiving environment and in a place which values entertainment and traditional principles as much as it does winning and losing.
We’re tricked into believing that high-performing players should always migrate towards the most successful clubs and that a move up the table is always a step towards the light. That’s just not true. Careers are defined by being in the right place at the right time and by framing a set of attributes with the right circumstance.
It’s about finding the right context and in Yannick Bolasie’s case that’s already happened. Selhurst Park is unequivocally the right stage for his ability.
For as long as Palace remain on their current trajectory, that’s where he should stay. Rather than just being an association, there’s something definitively right about watching him attack the Holmesdale Road Stand and seeing those supporters rise in anticipation when he squares-up a full-back.
It’s his home and, over the three-and-a-half-years of this new contract, he would be smart to understand that.