Peterborough United were the latest victims to fall under the spell of Wilfried Zaha, after he produced another stunning display at the weekend. The fleet-footed striker dazzled his audience at London Road and signed off with a 60-yard mesmerising run that set-up a remarkable winner for high-flying Crystal Palace.
The victory was a fitting tribute to the young Eagles starlet, who on his 20th birthday was hailed as the “best player outside the Premier League” by opposing manager Darren Ferguson. In truth, Zaha’s status within the modern game has transcended beyond all expectations, optimised by news of a call-up to the England senior side for the upcoming friendly against Sweden.
The never-ending list of interested parties grows by the day as his value in the tabloid press continues to rise. Crystal Palace find themselves on top of the world at the minute but should they use this opportunity to cash in on their prized asset when the transfer window reopens in January?
As a devout supporter of Crystal Palace, I have a little voice inside in my brain urging me to disregard such a ludicrous suggestion. Why would a young player adored by all, playing the best football of his career, want to leave a club sitting pretty at the top of the league?
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Of course, this exact strand of naivety prompted heartbreak when Dougie Freedman was seduced by Bolton Wanderers and I for one refuse to be betrayed by the ‘romance’ of football again. The board have collectively declared Zaha is not for sale but that won’t prevent the offers from flooding in, which leads me to believe the decision to depart will lie solely with the player himself.
If the club can maintain their position as promotion candidates then a sale could both hamper and aid their title charge in equal measures. Zaha has already showcased his credentials as a potential match winner and could prove the difference in the fine line between success and failure. However, despite the ignorant comments of an envious few, Palace are not a ‘one-man team’ and could still thrive in his absence.
One of Ian Holloway’s key strengths is his nous in the transfer market so imagine what he could achieve with a few extra zeros in his budget. Zaha is likely to attract a minimum of £10m, perhaps double that if the club can ignite a bidding war. Holloway has already insisted he won’t stand in the youngster’s way and could therefore already be turning his attention to the thought of bolstering other areas of the squad.
One of the key factors surrounding the significant transformation at Selhurst Park is the feel-good factor, born out of the growing sense of community at the club. The relentless support of the fans is finally being rewarded with results on the pitch and to destabilise that with a demoralising sale would be incredibly detrimental. At present, Zaha is in the perfect environment to continue his journey towards a more mature and all-round player.
Holloway has displayed notable insight when discussing the progression of Zaha, dispelling any fears that his development could be hampered in the wake of Freedman’s exit.
“I have to prove to him that I can help as much, if not more than the clubs that want to buy him.
“When he gets the ball I can’t teach him anything, I wouldn’t even try. But when he needs to think about moving to get the ball more or what to do when he releases it, I can help him no doubt.’ (www.cpfc.co.uk)
Zaha has already highlighted the potential for a good working relationship with his new manger by announcing he loves a boss with “good banter”, however it seems apparent to me that Holloway can offer him a lot more than a humorous quote or two.
The portfolio of previous Palace players who’ve fled the nest should provide Zaha with all the evidence he needs to keep his feet firmly in South London. Ben Watson and Wayne Routledge are only just starting to exert their influence on their respective sides while John Bostock continues to fade from the public eye.
Victor Moses may have finally been rewarded with his dream transfer to Chelsea but his move has occurred at the worst possible time, with Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar outlining their status as an ‘undroppable’ trio. On the other hand, Nathaniel Clyne may be relishing first-team action in the Premier League but if Southampton continue their wretched form, he could well be back in the Championship before too long.
Arsenal appear to be leading the chase for Zaha’s signature, with Tottenham and Liverpool also linked in recent weeks. However, Gunners fans are far from convinced of his potential and already possess Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who match Zaha’s size, technique and playing style. Any deal between the two would surely involve Zaha remaining at Palace for the remainder of the season, which may deter Arsene Wenger.
Whatever the outcome of January’s gold rush, the Palace faithful will be braced for the worst but more out of a natural reaction than any serious concerns. The gossip columns will no doubt be plastered with Zaha’s face until a resolution emerges, but despite the obvious drawbacks from his departure, I believe the club can emerge from this media storm in better shape, whatever the outcome.