Olyroos defender Jay Rich-Baghuelou says the messages from Crystal Palace fans will push him to help Australia achieve something great at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Standing at 1.9 metres, Crystal Palace Under 23 centre-back Rich-Baghuelou is hard to miss in a crowd and hard to handle on the pitch.
Formally a striker, the 21-year-old possesses quick feet, mobility and aerial power which will prove to be an asset for Graham Arnold as the Olyroos look to shock the world in Group C against Argentina, Spain and Egypt.
Rich-Baghuelou, who started all three games in his first call-up to an Australian national team setup in Marbella last month, has had a whirlwind journey to make it as a professional and gain a spot on Australia’s Olympic roster.
As kick-off against Argentina on July 22 draws closer for the Olyroos, read on as Rich-Baghuelou discusses swapping the Gold Coast for the UK, and how his family reacted to his Olympic selection as socceroos.com.au provides you with a chance to get to know every member of Graham Arnold's squad that little bit better.
Place of Birth: Gold Coast, Australia
Position: Central defender
Club: Crystal Palace
Previous clubs: Dulwich Hamlet, Welling United
International experience: Australia U23
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Rich-Baghuelou’s remarkable rise to make it as a professional
Rich-Baghuelou was born in Sydney to French-Australian parents, spent his early childhood living in both Paris and the Gold Coast, before returning permanently to the Gold Coast as a 10-year-old, where he started his junior career with Palm Beach Soccer Club.
After progressing through the youth ranks as a striker, Rich-Baghuelou moved to Gold Coast City where he plied his trade until he decided to move to England.
Frustrated by the lack of opportunities in Australian football, Rich-Baghuelou arrived in England with a desire to succeed but no idea where to start his quest to become a professional footballer in a foreign country.
A recommendation from his aunty led him to Crystal Palace’s Foundation where he trained a few times a week before gaining a contact in Fulham FC’s Foundation. The coaches at the Fulham Foundation took a liking to Rich-Baghuelou and before long, he was enrolled in a program to train and go to school.
It was not long before Fulham sent him out to non-league club Dulwich Hamlet but an injury in his first match halted his progression.
After knee surgery and five months later, he returned to Dulwich where he started in the club’s academy at the age of 18 as a striker. However, it was not long before the coaches spotted his defensive capabilities and transformed him into a centre-back: where he thrived.
He impressed so much as a defender that he was offered a trial at Charlton and Fulham’s Academy setups. At first, the 20-year-old’s trials came to nothing, and he returned home to the Gold Coast disillusioned.
But it was not long before Charlton called him back to train with them for a pre-season. While Charlton wanted to sign the centre-back, they could not get a deal over the line so trials with Brentford and Reading followed.
After questioning his longevity in the game, a move to National League side Welling United eventuated. The decision proved to be the right one and his performances at Welling caught the eye of Crystal Palace.
With several years of hard graft in England under his belt, Rich-Baghuelou put pen to paper on an 18-month deal with Palace’s Under-23s.
It was not long before he found his calling in South London. The 21-year-old made an instant impression, skippering the Eagles’ Under 23s in his first two games before eventually helping the side to earn promotion to Premier League 2.
Impressive performances with Palace’s Under 23 squad saw the towering 6'6'' centre-back recently selected for an Olyroos camp in Marbella. While Rich-Baghuelou had never been involved in national team setup, he relished the opportunity to pull on the Green and Gold for the first time.
“It was my first time in the international setup of Australia but it was an amazing experience and I was happy to be a part of it,” Rich-Baghuelou said.
“It's a great group of boys. Obviously, because I’ve been in the UK, I haven't been around many Australian players so being with them makes me feel like I'm back in Australia.”
Rich-Baghuelou’s family broke down in tears when he revealed the news
Representing Australia is the realisation of a lifelong dream for Rich-Baghuelou and one that he has had to navigate an unconventional path to achieve.
His call-up is proof that the sacrifices he and his family have made throughout his career have all been worth it, and there was an outpouring of emotion when he broke the news.
“When I told my mum, she broke down in tears which also happened to me,” Rich-Baghuelou said.
“My dad was the same, he was really happy for me. All my family has been behind me the whole way.
“Even my aunt and uncle who I live with in the UK. They are all stoked for me. It’s good to see them happy about what I'm doing.
“I’ll send them everything that they need to watch me and they will be loving it.”
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Now that he has made it to Japan, Rich-Baghuelou is backing himself to make some serious noise on the world stage and showcase why he has won so many plaudits at Crystal Palace.
Despite not expecting the call-up, the 1.9 metre tall centre-half cannot wait to test himself against Argentina, Spain and Egypt.
“I feel amazing. I literally can't believe that I’m here but I’m excited and I can't wait to get going,” Rich-Baghuelou explained.
“When I received the call from Graham, he told me that I was going to be involved in the Olympic team and I was literally buzzing. It was a massive shock but now that I'm here, I’m focused and only thinking about the games ahead.”
Amazing reaction from Crystal Palace fans
The striker-turned-stopper - who holds both Australian and French passports - has been in the UK less than three years, but he has certainly won the support of Crystal Palace fans.
When his Olympic squad announcement was made there was an outpouring of support from Eagles’ fans.
“I'm so happy that the fans are behind me. It’s Amazing,” Rich-Baghuelou said.
“Seeing the messages really pushes me. I'm happy that they're behind me.”