Wilfried Zaha’s Crossroads With England
Wilfried Zaha was part of the England U21 side that defeated Serbia, home and away, and put in two stellar performances out wide on the wing. It was Zaha‘s first real taste of competition with the England U21 setup, despite being called up twice at U19 level and having played a bit-part role prior to that.
Amongst all the fanfare, what is more concerning is where Zaha‘s international future lies. After a somewhat belated call-up by Stuart Pearce to the U21s in February of this year, in March 2012, Wilfried Zaha was voted The Football League‘s Young Player of the Year. Eight months later, he’s at the heart of a tug-of-war between the Ivory Coast and England. For someone who just turned 20 years of age, that cannot be an easy decision to have to make.
- Wilfried Zaha moved to England at the age of four.
- Wilfried Zaha has spent his entire footballing education at English clubs and within the English system.
- Wilfried Zaha has played for the England U19s and England U21s.
- Wilfried Zaha could still turn out for the Ivory Coast in January and end up being cap-tied to the African nation.
- Wilfried Zaha has received a personal phone call from Didier Drogba urging him to play for the nation of his birth.
Can England afford to lose yet another prodigious talent that has been brought through the English domestic ranks? The short answer is ‘no’. The easiest comparison to draw is certainly Victor Moses, who was shunned by Stuart Pearce at U21 level, which in turn pushed him to declare for Nigeria. Not to mention Emmanual ‘Ride My Bike’ Frimpong of Ghana, among many others.
To his credit, Stuart Pearce made a special personal visit to Crystal Palace‘s training ground in Kent in the early part of 2012 to persuade Wilfried Zaha that his international future lies with England. The hope is Roy Hodgson can continue that conversation, and this call-up will surely represent a huge part of that chat.
Worrying times? Potentially. England are not alone though, and it certainly is not as bad (yet). You only have to look to 2011 when Laurent Blanc, U21 coach Erick Mombaerts, U20 coach Francis Smerecki and technical director Francois Blacquart discussed plans to limit the involvement of Arab and black youth players in the French national team. While the Zaha conundrum is not a by-product of race at all, the comparisons can certainly be drawn between the vast numbers of African players who come through Clairefontaine, only to opt to play for Senegal or otherwise.
The most telling point, which should comfort the most fractious of England fans on the Zaha topic, should be the words of Roy Hodgson who spoke about Raheem Sterling‘s being eyed up by Jamaica:
“He has played all his football in England. I don’t see why I should have any doubts he wants to play for England. I suppose he might come to me and say ‘I want to play for Jamaica’.
“But I hope that won’t be the case. Certainly, he has a good chance of playing a part in Sweden and if you’ve been brought up in England and if you have a chance of playing for the English national team, that should be a very joyous occasion.
“I wouldn’t think you should necessarily be looking over your shoulder to see if there’s any other national teams who want you.”
At club level, it is likely that Wilfried Zaha will move on in January, but where he goes, remains up in the air. Steve Parish and Ian Holloway will certainly not let Zaha go on the cheap:
“I love it at Palace, the fans have got loads of love for me. I don’t need to think about anything else. When January comes, I’ll have to decide.”
At the time of writing Wilfried Zaha has 17 appearances across all competitions, four goals, and numerous assists for Crystal Palace.