Talent in football is nothing without dedication and persistence.
Few players demonstrate this more powerfully than Sullay Kaikai of Crystal Palace.
His talent is considerable but it is commitment and diligence that have got him to the verge of his Premier League debut.
But his start at the club was not exactly prodigious.
Kaikai was 15 and playing for non-league Fisher Athletic’s youth team in the Kent League.
Two trials came and went and Palace were still unsure. Finally another audition convinced them to take a chance. It has been a case of third time lucky for all concerned.
Kaikai signed on a non-contract basis initially but has really blossomed since joining up with Palace full-time after turning 16.
He has impressed coaches with his willingness to put in extra training, often staying behind after formal practice to work on specific areas of his game.
This has not gone unnoticed.
Alan Pardew is a known admirer of the 20-year-old and would have blooded him earlier this season if injury had not prevented it.
Kaikai has spent the majority of the 2015/2016 campaign on loan at Shrewsbury Town in League One. He has scored 12 goals in 26 league games and impressed hugely with his energetic and skilful wide-forward play.
He is a ball-player of considerable skill, searing pace and impressive power. He is capable of beating opponents with speed or guile and comfortable finishing from near or long range.
Kaikai enjoys cutting in from wide areas, shooting from distance or linking play with direct running and intricate approach work.
After tearing up League One he returns to Palace with valuable experience and some glowing endorsements.
Shrewsbury boss Mickey Mellon, the man who sold Jamie Vardy to Leicester, is a huge fan and believes Kaikai has international potential.
“Tell me who’s better than him in that Under-21 team? Look at the qualities he has. A young English talent who can score the kind of goals he has for us for so long now. He makes back fours bend with his pace, trickery, directness and his desire to score. And he works his socks off. I want to see brilliant players playing for England and I can’t believe he hasn’t even had a whisper,” Mellon told BBC Shropshire recently.
If England are interested they should move quickly, Kaikai has already received international invitations.
He qualifies to play for Sierra Leone, where his father, Sullay Sr, was a footballer and his mother, Navo, has stood for political office.
Kaikai spent time with the Sierra Leone national team on a family holiday two summers ago and received an invitation from their Under 21 squad earlier this year. He was voted Sierra Leone young player of the year 2014/2015 by readers of Sierra Leone Football.com and is clearly highly regarded in the West African nation.
Talk of international football seems premature but Kaikai has impressed performed well in the tests he has faced in his short career.
He came off the bench to score after ten minutes of his only Crystal Palace first team appearance in a 2014 League Cup tie against Newcastle United.
And he performed well during another loan spell in the 2015 FA Cup when Cambridge United took Manchester United to a third round replay. His diligence and pace on the break caused the Premier League giants problems.
Kaikai was named Cambridge’s young player of the season a feat he has repeated this year with Shrewsbury.
The quality and variety of his goals this season together with his mature decision-making suggest he is ready to test himself at a much higher level than League One. The question for Alan Pardew is whether that will be in the Premier League with Palace next season or on-loan with another club.
Kaikai has waited patiently for his chance and is fully deserving of it.
“Football’s all I’ve wanted to do, so I had to be persistent,” he said in 2015. It is nearly his time.
But he is the first to admit that is not talent alone that has got him this far.
“It’s down to self-belief and practice,” he said recently. “I put a lot of time in after training working on my shooting and dribbling. I’m confident that, when I get the ball, I can do something with it.
“Going into next season, it will benefit me. My all-round game has improved. I need to have a solid pre-season and see what happens.”
Kaikai’s Premier League debut, if and when it comes, is unlikely to be an isolated game. He looks set for a successful career at the highest level in English football.
Any young player hoping for the same should learn from his example.
A footballer’s career is short. You have to get the most out of it that you can. Putting in extra training is no sacrifice in the grand scheme of things.
And it gets you noticed. Just ask Alan Pardew about Sullay Kaikai.