How Michael Olise went from academy rejection to signing for Bayern Munich
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How Michael Olise went from academy rejection to signing for Bayern Munich

27/06/24 16:10

Known for his nonchalant personality and laid-back approach, Olise has racked up a reputation for his never-ending confidence, which has set him apart from other players in the Premier League. A last minute free-kick equaliser against Manchester United? It’s just another day in the office for him.

Unsurprisingly, the rest of the world is noticing. Clubs of the highest calibre have been battling to nick the Crystal Palace talisman for €60 million. It finally seems that the Transfer Saga is reaching its conclusion, and it appears he’s all but signed on the dotted line for Bayern Munich, making now the perfect time to take a look back on how Olise’s story has unfolded so far.

In Football Park exclusive interviews from two key figures in Olise’s development; Reading’s former Director of Football, Seb Ewen, and Current Head of Academy Recruitment, Brendan Flanagan, the rapid rise of Michael Olise becomes even more impressive.

So as we delve into the winding path that has led Olise to stardom, with the help of Ewen and Flanagan, it’s abundantly obvious that this move isn’t the peak of his powers. There’s somehow more to come from the French youth international.

First Steps In Football

Brendan Flanagan, Head of Academy Recruitment at Reading, remembers when one of his contacts at Tottenham Hotspur gave him that phone call. “The Tottenham scout rang me up and said: I’ve got a player for you.”

The unnamed Tottenham scout rang Flanagan, and informed him about a boy named Michael who had spent seven years at Chelsea after being picked up from his local side Hayes and Yeading at age seven.

That same boy relocated to Manchester City after leaving Chelsea, but yet again he was let go. So down in the dumps, the Tottenham scout was made aware of Michael, and offered him to come to North London to see what he was about.

That day was a fateful one for Michael, who showed up at Tottenham’s academy with an agent to his side. Tottenham weren’t having a player walk in with an agent on his first day expecting to sign on, they assumed this was the kind of attitude and arrogance that had seen this boy previously let go from Chelsea and City, and he was told it wasn’t going to work out.

Michael had reached a low point, rejected from three Premier League academies and despite his confidence in his own ability, he probably thought that his career was doomed. It wasn’t, of course, because he was Michael Olise, and Brendan Flanagan picked up the phone.

Despite a lot of resistance, given Olise’s record of being released from academies, Reading took the risk and asked Olise to come and train in Berkshire, with a view of securing his services.

However Reading’s bubble burst when Olise’s mother told them he was first going to do private work with a mentor before continuing with his football. Flanagan thought that was it, and he’d never see Olise in a Reading shirt, but to his surprise just a few weeks later his mother called him back. She informed Flanagan that Olise was ready and he came to train with the Royals immediately.

Given the Frenchman's previous record of being released, largely due to rumours of ‘arrogance’, Flanagan says he knows the coaches sat him down and warned him to behave at Reading. He said the conversation went along the lines of: “There's the line. Step over it, and we’ll be on you. So, they sort of broke it down and explained to him from the very off. And you know what? We never had a problem with him.”

“We signed him after a couple of weeks, he was that good.” Said Flanagan, recounting how quickly Olise’s ability and determination impressed Reading. In July 2018, he was inducted into their Academy scholarship program, and the rest is history.

The Royals’ Rising Star

Olise immediately impressed at Reading, it was obvious to everyone around the club why he was given a chance at such prestigious academies previously, and it seemed they all knew he was destined for big things.

Former Director of Football at Reading, Seb Ewen, remembers the first time Olise was brought to his attention:

“I remember seeing this kid who was left footed, and technically, I loved to watch him.” Reminisced Ewen: “He was doing things with the ball, little intricate flicks, little touches and feints that I found very attractive.

“He was very, very young, 17 years old. I just remember this kid who had a touch and a kind of anticipation and vision in the game.

“So afterwards, I found out that he'd been at Chelsea and City beforehand, and that was no real surprise when you saw the quality of the kid. For me, it was clear that he just needed to play and grow.”

Ewen can pin the moment he realised Olise was special to one specific youth game, where the forward was penalised for showboating.

“That was my highlight of the game. He managed to get a reaction out of the opposition with football. He didn't induce anybody, didn't say anything. He just managed to take the piss with his football, with his feet. He let his feet do the talking. He was reprimanded at the time, and I remember saying to him that I absolutely adored that

“That's what an attacking player is meant to do.”

It wasn’t just Ewen who was shocked by Olise’s quality. Brendan Flanagan recounted a specific game in which the French ace came on against Sparta Prague for Reading u21’s side. He and Hayden Mullins, then Reading’s loan manager and current Fulham u21’s manager, realised how special Olise really was.

“He came on with 17 minutes to go.” Said Flanagan: “I sat next to Hayden, five minutes into it (Olise’s cameo) Hayden went, who is that?

“We said he’d play for the first team by the end of the season, and he was in the first team by March.”

Olise made his professional debut against Leeds United in March 2019, aged just 17, he replaced Modou Barrow in a 3-0 home defeat to Leeds United. He made three further appearances that season, securing the club's scholar of the year award, and 19 in 2019/20.

“He was in.” Ewen Recalled: “Once you get that opportunity in the first team like Michael did at reading. That happened because we had injuries down the left side, he got his breakthrough, and he took it with both hands, secured it, cemented it. The next 18 months he developed into that player that would go on to be a premier league player."

It was in the 2020/21 season that Michael Olise really proved he was ready to take his game up a level. He became a mainstay in the Royals’ starting first team, and made a total of 44 appearances over the course of the campaign.

The Frenchman bagged seven goals and provided 12 assists for his teammates. He finished the season crowned EA Sports Young Player of the Season, piping Liverpool star Harvey Elliot to the accolade, and also appeared in the EFL Championship Team of the Season.

That year, Olise joined a star studded list of names to win the prestigious Young Player of the Season award. He found himself among the ranks of Jude Bellingham and Ollie Watkins who had previously been awarded the accolade.

After such an impressive season, and a reported £8 million release clause in the wonderkid’s contract, it’s no surprise the Premier League came calling. Crystal Palace activated Olise’s release clause and off he went for his new challenge.

“Once he got in the first team and you actually saw him on the pitch, you just knew that he wasn't going to be with you very long, because he was just unique.” Said Flanagan: “He was talented. He was just different to anything else on the pitch.”

It didn’t seem Ewen had any grievances toward Olise, despite the short time that Reading fans had to enjoy him:

“I think that if a player has an ability to play higher, they always need to try and play higher. Simple fact. He had an opportunity that was too good and he proved to be right with his decision in what he's done since then.”

South London Switch

At just 19-years-old, Michael Olise made the switch from Reading to Crystal Palace. The French youth international signed a five year deal with the Eagles in the summer of 2021. He made his Premier League debut in September, in a 3-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur.

Olise made 33 appearances in all competitions during his first season at Crystal Palace, he bagged a respectable four goals and eight assists in that time, impressive for a teenager to say the least. His first goal came against Leicester City in a 2-2 draw, subsequently earning him the club's Man of the Match award.

It was in 2022/23 that everyone realised just how hot of a property Michael Olise was, he became the first Palace player to ever provide a double-digit haul of assists in the Premier League. Three of which were against Leeds United in a 5-1 thumping, and he became the youngest player to ever provide three open-play assists in a premier league game. He also scored his infamous last minute freekick against Manchester United, with his Balotelli-esque lack of celebration. The postman doesn’t celebrate when he delivers the post, does he?

Brendan Flanagan certainly remembers that one: “(He would) Expect to do that nine times out of 10, which is why when he did it against man united he didn't really celebrate, that's his confidence in his ability.

“It's nothing new.”

Olise was handed the Eagles Player’s Player of the Season award for his efforts, and the whole world watched on as the Frenchman started to mould into the superstar he is today. Despite rumours of his departure, Olise signed a new contract at the Eagles in order to increase his release clause. Transfer speculation was silenced.

Yet somehow, Olise got better still. In 2023/24, despite being hampered with hamstring injuries across the campaign. He and Eberechi Eze filled the void left by Wilfried Zaha effortlessly.

The Frenchman bagged himself a career-highest 10 Premier League goals, in just 19 appearances across the campaign. Returning to fitness in March, Olise grabbed four goals and three assists in the Eagles’ last six matches, winning five of them.

That was it for him at Crystal Palace, it was abundantly obvious he was ready to play at a higher level, despite the promising form Oliver Glasner’s side showed toward the back end of the campaign. Michael Olise is ready to join Football’s elite, and they’re willing to pay his new release clause.

Seb Ewen thinks he can see what changed for Olise to take him to this higher level: “I think the major difference between when he was playing at Reading and the difference at Palace now is the physical maturation.

“He's a much taller, stronger player than ever in Berkshire. He has added this extra physicality to his game now, which means that all around it opens up the possibilities to him as a player.”

The Future

Due to his impressive performances across his last three campaigns in South London, demand for Olise sky-rocketed this summer. Clubs have been racing to pay his release clause and secure his signature.

His rumoured €60 million release clause made an exit look inevitable, and despite reports from tier one source Fabrizio Romano that Crystal Palace had offered him an improved deal, Olise was ready to move on.

Clubs like Newcastle and Chelsea tried for his signature, with Chelsea chasing Olise for the best part of two years, but they recently pulled out of the race. Questions of financial issues have been raised, or perhaps Olise didn’t want to head back to the club who lost faith in him all those years ago?

It now is all but confirmed that the 22-year-old has all but been announced as a new Bayern Munich player, having agreed personal terms with the German giants.

Despite a huge fee, this still seems somewhat of a bargain on Bayern Munich’s end, Olise is guaranteed quality at such a young age, and some of his former mentors are completely confident that he will achieve big things with the Bavarians.

It’s a big step up for the winger, but Brendan Flanagan is confident Olise has the ability to play for any team in the world: “I think wherever Michael goes, Michael will flourish. He could go anywhere, he's just one of those kids that's just got that natural ability with a football and that confidence to succeed wherever he goes.”

Despite the Quality that Bayern Munich boast across their attack and midfield; former Director of Football, Seb Ewen, knows that Olise will find his place in the German giant’s side: “I think that Michael's got the potential to play at the very highest level, internationally and domestically. He's an elite player. He's somebody who can change a game on his own. It's that kind of quality that I think will ensure that he will get minutes at Bayern Munich. If it doesn't come immediately, I know that Michael is the kind of guy who will fight his way into a line up”

A French Connection

One of the questions that’s always raised around Michael Olise is his chosen nationality.

Olise is eligible to represent Nigeria, Algeria, France and England. To the dismay of England fans, he seems to have pledged his allegiance to ‘Les Bleus’.

Despite being born in England, and coming through English academy systems, it’s clear Olise is more keen on playing for France. He was offered a place in the England u21 squad when he was 20-years-old, but he chose to represent the French equivalent side instead.

The Athletic once reported that although his grasp of the French language is limited, he is learning and considers himself to be French. He reportedly feels loyalty to France given they handed him international recognition back in 2019.

Despite being snubbed for Les Bleus Euro 2024 squad, he has been handed a place in Thierry Henry’s squad for the upcoming Olympic games this summer. Football fans will be watching from all around the globe to see what Bayern’s newest superstar can do on the international stage.

Benji Kosartiyer
Journalist
Joe Southan

Football Writer

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