EXCLUSIVE: Premier League Crystal Palace in negotiations to sign AFC Sudbury star

PREMIER-LEAGUE BOUND? Tyler French, who could be set to move from non-league to the Premier League when the summer transfer window opens for business in July.   Picture: Clive Pearson (AFC Sudbury)
PREMIER-LEAGUE BOUND? Tyler French, who could be set to move from non-league to the Premier League when the summer transfer window opens for business in July. Picture: Clive Pearson (AFC Sudbury)

AFC Sudbury's hot property Tyler French is nearing a fairytale move to the Premier League this summer after Crystal Palace were unable to get a deal concluded before last night's 11pm cut-off point.

The Free Press were first to break the news that The Eagles had swooped from under Ipswich Town's noses to take him on trial last week, following a three-month period training with the Blues.

During that time on trial at Ipswich 17-year-old French, who can play anywhere across the defence, continued to be a regular starter for AFC in the Ryman League Premier Division.

But he could now be set to become one of the latest non-league players to catapult straight from the semi-professional ranks to a top tier club when the next transfer window opens in July.

Palace, now managed by previous England boss Sam Allardyce, were the unnamed club to express their interest to sign the former Long Melford youth player yesterday afternoon, which led to representatives of the club meeting with AFC Sudbury senior figures and French himself at the club last night.

With a deal unable to be agreed in time for the 11pm close of the January transfer window for English clubs, AFC have confirmed negotiations are ongoing ahead of a potential summer move.

STAR TURN: Tyler French in action for AFC Sudbury at Suffolk rivals Needham Market on Boxing Day   Picture: Mecha Morton

STAR TURN: Tyler French in action for AFC Sudbury at Suffolk rivals Needham Market on Boxing Day Picture: Mecha Morton

Director Richard Instance said: "We did not get anything concluded last night but there are on-going discussions.

"They said to us that they are very keen to get a deal done, but it now cannot happen in this (January) transfer window."

Until then French will remain a Sudbury player but could be asked to play in up to two competitive games by any one club, under FA rules.

The Free Press understands he impressed Palace academy chiefs when playing in a behind-closed-doors friendly at the South London club's training ground yesterday, where he was watched in two different positions.

French, who has predominantly been utilised as a right-back since AFC's only specialist, Ben Robinson, was transferred to Cambridge City, shone at left-back in a pre-season friendly victory over an Ipswich Town XI, which prompted a trial beginning at the Tractor Boys in October, but considers centre-back as his natural position.

Thurlow Nunn League Long Melford was where French was brought through before he made the switch to AFC Sudbury's academy set-up, which began offering full-time B-TEC scholarships last season.

After impressing in AFC assistant manager Andy Reynold's Suffolk FA Under-18s side as well as Sudbury's Under-18s and reserves sides, the youngster broke into the first-team at the back end of last season, playing three times in the Ryman League Division One North title-winning campaign.

Manager Jamie Godbold has previously said he is resigned to losing his star teenage talent and believes he is good enough to make the giant step up to a top team (see embedded tweet).

In jumping from non-league to the Premier League, he would follow in the footsteps of a small band of players such as Chris Smalling, who went from fellow Ryman League club Maidstone United to Fulham in the summer of 2008, and Malcolm Christie, who made the meteoric rise at Derby County in 1998 from Nuneaton Borough.

The latest was Cohen Bramall's transfer to Arsenal from Hednesford Town earlier this month.

Jamie Vardy's fairytale rise from Fleetwood Town in the Conference to Leicester City in the Championship before going on to win the hearts of the nation by capturing the Premier League title, is set to be told in a Hollywood film and has become a beacon of hope to all non-league players.

* For more reaction, don't miss Thursday's print edition of the Suffolk Free Press.