Wilfried Zaha: England call-up raises his stock even higher
One of Ian Holloway’s first duties in succeeding Dougie Freedman as manager of Crystal Palace was to, rather inevitably, answer questions about the future of his prized asset at Selhurst Park, Wilfried Zaha. His response, in his typical eccentric Bristolian register, was to comprehensively rebuff any potential departure. “Can I be polite?” he reversed the question rhetorically, “if somebody comes in… they can jog on”.
It was an expectedly bashful response from Holloway who will battle hard to keep together a squad that had sat third in the Championship upon the arrival of the ex-Blackpool boss and now sit top, but there will be a huge feeling behind the brash defences of the new manager that Zaha will, sooner or later, be subject of tangible interest from one of the Premier League’s top clubs. A series of scintillating performances in the second tier has managed to convince Roy Hodgson as on Sunday night the twenty year old was called into the England squad for Wednesday’s friendly in Sweden, so one would predict that his appeal to the domestic managerial elite has already hit serious levels.
As modern football continues to dictate, sadly, there only appears to be one winner when it comes to transfer dealings between the haves and the have-nots. It would take a degree of naivety to believe that Holloway’s enthusiasm for the esteem Palace fans hold the young winger in, “he has his own song” he exhumed, would hold sway with the player when the time to decide between loyalty and a pay-rise arises. There would be a hope that, as seems perfectly possible now, Zaha remains with Palace and have a crack at the top with his boyhood club, but that is becoming more of an idyll than a likelihood in the modern game, as the pound overshadows ambition with so many who have come the same way as Zaha.
Holloway’s start to life at Crystal Palace has been electric, a 5-0 thrashing of Ipswich before a 2-1 win away at Peterborough, the latter causing the new boss to wax lyrical about the superb talent he now has the opportunity to harness. “Wonderful, exhilarating, amazing” were some of the verbs Holloway lavished on his man whilst describing a performance that saw him play a role in both goals; freeing Aaron Wilbraham who found Andre Moritz for the first, while breaking away to supply Kagisho Dikgachoi for the vital second. Darren Ferguson, the manager of Peterborough, said of Zaha, “he’s the best player outside the Premier League, hands down”.
24 hours later and his footballing career, now just 2 years in, rose to new echelons through the most surprising of England call-ups. A regular member of Stuart Pearce’s under-21 squad since February, many people would have attributed a step-up to the seniors as premature, after all he becomes just the third player in five years to get the call-up whilst residing outside of the cherished top tier.
The cynics may propose that such a decision has been made in order to contain his future international career after rumours the winger may choose to represent the country of his birth, the Ivory Coast, were spread. Testament to his burgeoning reputation that Didier Drogba has personally called for Zaha to pick the African nation, but England, rightly, have identified the 20-year-old, Crystal Palace’s young player of the year twice in succession, as a precocious talent they dare not let slip through the net.
Not a prolific goal scorer by any stretch of thinking, he has just ten goals in three years at the Eagles, but it is his pace and power in direct running that causes defenders the gravest of concern, just ask Manchester United’s Fabio Da Silva who was torn to shreds in last year’s league cup quarter final. Dougie Freedman’s assistant at Palace, Curtis Fleming, opined that Zaha’s decision-making as a wide man still needs improvement, but it is not a view shared by his team-mate, striker Glenn Murray, who claimed he has “everything” and that “the whole squad are in awe of him”.
A sudden burst of four goals in two games this season has seen speculation run riot, leading to first Dougie Freedman, then Hollway’s rebuttal of any idea that he may depart in the near future. Protected by a five year contract, it would likely take the “special” offer spoke of by both managers past and present, to secure his incredibly exciting future, but if Crystal Palace have an England international, should Zaha get a cap in Stockholm on Wednesday, on their books come January, then it promises to be one intense game of tug of war between the London club and any potential suitor coming in armed with bags of cash.
Straight off the same conveyor belt and exact same mould of production that created John Bostock (before he wasted his potential with the rawest of moves) and Victor Moses, Zaha is one huge prospect that, unlike Moses who was a forced sale to Wigan of £2.5 million due to financial issues with previous chairman Simon Jordan, will demand a massive transfer fee.
With Arsenal, Manchester United and co. all linked, it is approaching the time when somebody is willing to stump it up and despite Holloway’s vocal defence, it will be very hard to hold on to the winger, regardless of how often Palace fans sing his name.