Ex-Palace and Spurs ace O'Reilly thinks London is the place to play football
By Alessandro Schiavone
Crystal Palace legend Gary O’Reilly thinks London is the ace up the capital clubs’ sleeves as it makes it easier for them to seal a deal for coveted footballers as most of them are desperate to live in the Big Smoke.
More and more players around the world look to secure a move not only to the Premier League but also to the prominent English capital which suits their off-the-pitch lifestyle, activities and interests.
Surprisingly, no London-based player has ever won the Ballon D’Or while some of the greatest-ever footballers such as Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Armando Maradona, Pele or Johan Cruyff have never had any links with London clubs.
But that doesn’t detract from the power London holds in the players’ eyes nowadays with sides such as West Ham, Palace, Fulham and even Watford capitalising on their geographical location.
“It’s as obvious as the nose on your face”, O’Reilly said with a beaming smile.
“London, all day, every day. London! You go to Liverpool because it’s Liverpool or Everton. You go to Manchester because it’s United or City. But London is THE deal. You talk to key players around the world and all they want is to play in London.
“The attraction of London is just amazing. It’s such a popular city. Once tourism returns to the world, London can stand out above just every other city and that whole package works on your behalf. It’s what it is.”
Whether it’s the likes of Tony Adams, Ian Wright, Frank Lampard or David Beckham a couple of decades ago or Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Declan Rice today, countless high-profile footballers grew up playing in the capital’s estate and parks. Palace too, are no strangers to producing budding homegrown talent with the likes of Gareth Southgate, Victor Moses, Wilfried Zaha, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Tyrick Mitchell all learning their trade in the club’s renowned academy.
But what is it that makes London such a talent factory?
“There’s a passion in London. A good football passion”, revealed the former Spurs defender who is considering upping sticks again to return to England’s famous capital one day.
“I grew up around London, I didn’t grow up in London but I was playing in East London, North London, South London and you’re always playing against top-class players. London in general has always been a great place to find talent. Liverpool and Manchester they are the same, these urban areas throw up talented players consistently. South London has just got the capacity to generate top-class talent and Palace have benefitted from that.
“It’s no God-given right to have that talent come through, it’s its own thing. It’s just whether or not organically those players are in the club to bring through or whether you have to go into the market and find them and buy them.
"And if you’re a Premier League club and go into the market to buy players everybody jacks the price up because you are a Premier League. So it’s tough for Palace because they are competing against all the other Premier League clubs and some of them have very, very deep pockets. And even now, in the pandemic.
“But I think Palace have always had good players within their system. The young full-back Mitchell is an example of that. Wan-Bissaka, who came through, is an example of that. South London is a great area for talent, particularly that South East part of London.”
An integral figure of the Palace side that reached the FA Cup final in 1990, O’Reilly who now lives and works for a radio station in New York, hopes that the Eagles will strengthen their squad at the back as the clock is ticking on Gary Cahill and company’s career.
He said: “You have to look at the defence, only because you have a number of players coming towards the final stages of their career. Gary Cahill has been excellent but he can’t go on forever. Scott Dann has been excellent but as again, he can’t go on forever. You got a lot of players whose ages starts with a three. You got to look at refreshing because that would be a natural process, not to say that they are weak, but a process that you need to bring in new and younger players to refresh if there’s injuries and suspensions.
O’Reilly also hopes to see Palace swoop for a prolific centre-forward but urges the club to first wait and see what the new manager wants.
He said: “Any team, be it Manchester United, Liverpool or Manchester City will say: get me a goal scorer, get me someone else who scores goals! But that’s tough [to find] and that’s why they cost so much money. To say where I would strengthen, I have to know what the coach is thinking and we don’t know who the coach is yet. I don’t know whether the coach wants an N’Golo Kante or Paul Pogba type of player.”