Crystal Palace and England's wonder kid Nya Kirby living the dream after Hong Kong debut

The 17-year-old England youth international talks about first-team opportunities, the notorious Hong Kong heat, and playing alongside Premier League stars such as Dele Alli and Wilfried Zaha

Andrew McNicol |

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West Bromwich Albion’s Tyler Roberts (left) and Kane Wilson (centre) try to tackle Nya Kirby at Hong Kong Stadium.

Imagine yourself training alongside football superstars like Tottenham Hostpur’s Dele Alli and Harry Kane one season, then Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke the next. Could you do it?

Nya Kirby is living every boy’s dream. The 17-year-old Englishman is one of football’s brightest talents, with the likes of Premier League champions Chelsea tracking his every move.

Nya embarked on a new adventure this season, having transferred from Tottenham’s youth team to Crystal Palace in an attempt to get more first-team opportunities.

“I want to carry on breaking into the first team and get more minutes under my belt,” Nya told Young Post after making his senior team debut at the Asia Premier League Trophy in Hong Kong in July.

“It was hot,” laughs Nya, who was visiting Asia for the first time. “You don’t get this sort of temperature in England.”

The silky central midfielder was given the nod by new Palace coach Frank de Boer, who Kirby says has been very encouraging so far.

Despite losing 0-2 to Liverpool, Nya was delighted to share the pitch with top-class footballers we normally only see on television.

“To play with such good players was a great experience … it made me a better player and better person as well,” he says.

Nya Kirby made his senior debut for Crystal Palace in a friendly in Hong Kong.
Photo: Andrew McNicol/SCMP

The modest Nya has been playing with elite players his whole life, it seems. He represented the England U16 and U17 teams and looks likely to get his foot in the door in the U18s – where players really start to be taken seriously. Nya explains that the steps up are only going to get bigger, so it’s important to enjoy playing, or else the stresses will affect performance.

Last summer, rumours surrounded the then-16-year-old after he expressed interest in a move away from Tottenham. Chelsea beckoned, but the move fell apart due to allegations of “tapping up” the player – a sports term for attempting to lure a player to a new team without the prior permission of his or her current team. The move caused anger from Tottenham and Chelsea backed off.

Even during the most difficult times, Nya maintains a positive outlook.

“It’s only going to get more difficult, so the key is to enjoy it,” he says.

He has advice for young Hongkongers looking to break into the sports scene.

“Just keep working hard – don’t stop at anything and always be learning. And enjoy it. The main thing is to enjoy what you’re doing.”

Nya’s whirlwind of events last year came to a close after moving to current team Palace, where his exciting style of play is already making a good impression. With the backing of his coach, teammates and family, Nya Kirby is on track to becoming a household name.

Bench notes

What do you think of Hong Kong?

It’s nice. Very hot but a good experience.

Who is the best player you’ve faced in this Crystal Palace team?

I would have to say Wilfried Zaha. So skilful on the ball.

Who is the best player you’ve ever played with?

It’s got to be Dele Alli when I was at Spurs.

Edited by Pete Spurrier