Newly-promoted Crystal Palace’s £6 million deal to bring Dwight Gayle to Selhurst Park may strike as one of the more surprising deals in this summer’s transfer window, but it will rank as a shrewd move by Ian Holloway to those aware of his frenetic rise through the leagues. Palace’s move for Gayle would complete his journey from the Essex Senior League to the Premier League in just two years.
Gayle began his footballing career with the youth teams at Arsenal only to be released in 2009, going on to join Essex Senior side Stansted with whom he hit a startling 57 goals in the 2010-11 season. That caught the attention of Dagenham and Redbridge who signed him in the summer of 2011 before immediately sending him on loan to Bishop’s Stortford of the Conference North. His prolific form continued, hitting 42 goals, earning himself a 3 year professional deal at Dagenham in July 2012.
Gayle made his professional début for the Daggers in a defeat to Cheltenham Town in August 2012 and that was the start of a consistent run in the side of 18 games in which he hit 7 goals. Darren Ferguson of Peterborough took notice of his impressive form and signed him on a loan deal in November with the incentive of making his deal permanent if he made an impact. After Tyrone Barnett and Emile Sinclair were left out for breaches of club discipline, Gayle was handed his first chance for the Posh against Ipswich a week after he arrived at the club.
His loan spell at London Road saw him hit five goals in six games and in early January he signed a permanent 4 and a half year deal with the club for a fee of £500,000, rising to £750,00. Gayle ended the season with 13 goals for Peterborough after adapting to the Championship in very little time, a hat-trick against Blackburn at Ewood Park was memorable, as were vital goals against Huddersfield, Watford and Leeds. However, his goals and the impact he had on Lee Tomlin, his striking partner who showed vast signs of improvement alongside Gayle in attack, weren’t enough to help Peterborough avoid relegation.
Despite having four years to run on his contract, it is extremely hard to imagine Gayle sticking around in Cambridgeshire to ply his trade in League One and it is no shock to see Palace desperately seeking the signature of the coveted young Englishman, the only surprise being the sizeable fee of £6 million, which could rise to £8.5 million, for a striker that has never before played higher than the second tier.
Gayle possesses everything from a young striker who likes to play on the shoulder of the defender; agility, clever movement, close control and raw pace, as well as an unerring natural finishing ability which sees him convert so many of his chances.
As well as those natural attributes, Gayle also boasts a gifted intelligence for the game, constantly moving into pockets of space with cleverness to free up space for team-mates behind the opposing defence. His diminutive figure, he stands at sub 6ft, allows him to turn quickly and change direction with speed, able to adjust his body to receive the ball and link-play with nimble touches.
From there, he springs into action by running beyond his marker, making him a prime target for threaded through balls which he can run onto and head towards goal with pace to burn. Looking to play on the shoulder of the defender runs the risk of being caught offside, though his intelligent running and smart reading of the game manages to curb this.
With Glenn Murray’s play-off induced injury possibly ruling him out until December, Palace have found themselves without a genuine source of goals as they head up to the Premier League, hence a move for Gayle with 39 year old Kevin Phillips’s future still uncertain. Gayle has shown no problem in adjusting to the Championship after coming up from League Two and Holloway will be hoping he can do the same with the transition to the top tier despite the inevitable pressure that will accompany the hefty £6 million price-tag.
Dagenham and Redbridge reportedly stand to earn a further £1 million from the deal that could still stand to rise to £8.5 million considering how well the 22 year old does in south London, but there is no doubting the youngster’s promising potential and ability. His début year in the Premier League will be scrutinised because of the transfer fee and he cannot be expected to hit the ground running in terms of becoming a prolific goal-scorer right away, so Palace may need to sign somebody else in order to ease that burden on him.
Take away the contention over the fee and there is no doubting that Palace have bought in an exciting youngster to compliment the high potential in the likes of Johnny Williams and Yannick Bolasie. If Gayle can continue to partner his brilliant natural ability with his willingness to learn and progress, his will be a bright future and his stock will only continue to rise at a fair rate of knots.