When Wilfried Zaha signalled his intention to leave Crystal Palace on the eve of the trade deadline this summer, Eagles’ fans around the globe held their collective breath. Here was the man who had been the star player for much of the team’s current stint in the Premier League, the personification of their relative success, and he was demanding a trade.
The request came amidst significant interest from Arsenal and Everton, but unfortunately for Zaha – and fortunately for Crystal Palace – neither of those teams was able to put forward a satisfactory offer, and the 26-year-old was forced to stay put.
Zaha Eyes World Class Football
The reasons for Zaha’s desire for a change were relatively clear-cut. As much as the Eagles had improved during his tenure at the club, going from a mid-tier Championship club to a mid-tier Premier League club, they were still just that; a mid-tier fish in the biggest of ponds. He wanted to be at the top, to play Champions League football and to challenge for titles – and probably earn a slightly heftier paycheque while doing it.
The 2019/20 season, however, has seen Crystal Palace exceed all expectations. Of course, the season is just eight games old, but they have snared 14 points from those games and find themselves in sixth position. Their impressive start to the season was typified by a rousing win over West Ham last weekend, when they recovered from a one-goal deficit to score the three points courtesy of an 87thminute winner by Jordan Ayew.
It was their second win on the trot and their next match, against Manchester City, will come more than a month since their last defeat. Unsurprisingly, that streak has coincided with a return to form for their star, Wilfried Zaha. Zaha started the season slowly, himself admitting that he did not start the season in a headspace that would allow him to play his best football, but against the Wolves, Norwich City and in particular West Ham, he appeared to be on the way back to his best, creating chances and causing headaches for defenders seemingly at will.
So just how far can Crystal Palace go, and what impact will their performance have on whether Zaha remains firm in his intentions to leave Selhurst Park in the next transfer window? Though they have impressed so far, football spreads suggest the Eagles aren’t likely to maintain their position in the upper echelons of the table, and if those predictions materialise then Zaha will again be left wallowing in the mid-tier. If that’s the case, it’s hard to imagine he won’t once again be pushing for a move.
Forced to Stay in South London
Zaha himself has said all the right things when pressed to reveal his intentions, telling BBC Africa that ‘I’m just trying perform to the best of my ability for my club’ and taking ‘each day as it comes’. However, in recent days reports have emerged that he has decided to take legal action against his agent, Will Salthouse, as a result of the failed transfer last summer. According to Zaha, Salthouse’s close relationship with Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish compromised the potential to get a deal done.
Though it’s difficult to unequivocally read Zaha’s intentions, this move certainly suggests that he still harbours some discontent about the inability to organise a better deal elsewhere. Indeed, even Eagles manager Roy Hodgson realises his club may not be able to hold on to their star forever. After his team’s win against Norwich City last week, Hodgson called Zaha ‘a player we are very, very loathe to lose’, but also stated ‘I am realistic. I realise that one day we might not be able to bat off the interest in him’.
As Hodgson also mentioned, however, Zaha has been a Crystal Palace player for a long time. He was in their academy at just 12 years of age, made his professional debut with them at 17, and has spent the vast majority of his ten-year career playing for them. He must feel a strong element of loyalty towards them, and the culture at the club which he himself has lauded is surely another factor in the favour of the Eagles.
However, there are certain things that the bigger clubs can offer which the likes of Crystal Palace simply can’t match. If they can continue their run of form that could potentially influence Zaha to want to stay, but the problem the Eagles face is that if they do keep playing well, it’s likely he will be a significant reason for it, meaning the offers will come flooding in thick and fast. It’s anyone’s guess what Zaha is intending to do with his future, but for the moment, it would appear Selhurst Park isn’t likely to be his home for much longer.