Friday, November 23, 2012

Wilfried Zaha - 'The Boy Wonder'

Dazet Wilfried Armel Zaha, better known as Wilf Zaha is currently the hottest young star in British football. As a Crystal Palace supporter I am running out of superlatives to describe England's most recently capped international player.

Today the Crystal Palace forward/winger won the ‘Football League Young Player of the Month’ award for October. Zaha scored his first two goals of the season against Wolves on the 2nd October 2012. He then scored a further two goals in his next game, four days later, in a 4–3 win over Burnley. Palace remained unbeaten in October and this included a victory at then table-toppers Leicester who had won all five of their home games before Palace spoiled the party, winning 2-1 at The Walkers Stadium. Palace are in fact unbeaten in the league since 25th August. Zaha’s form has been a major factor in the Club’s successful start to the season, and many opposition managers have complemented the recently turned 20 year-old on some magical displays. 

Crystal Palace boss Ian Holloway presents Wilf Zaha with his award.

His pace, footwork, balance and tricks are breathtaking, but this season he has stepped up his game to another level. His ability to beat players has never been in doubt and he regularly leaves opposition full-backs on their back sides. But this season he has worked on his all-round game and as a result his fitness, work rate, defensive duties, and his ability to pick a pass or take on a player have improved ten-fold. Added to the fact that he is scoring goals as well - this all contributes to making him one of the most exciting player to watch in British football. The way Palace are set-up to play this season, using two wingers to attack at pace, often drawing defenders out of position and creating time and space for team-mates has made Crystal Palace an exciting team to watch this season, something the Selhurst Park faithful have not witnessed for many years!

Zaha and team-mate Yannick Bolasie are the protagonists in this football feast with all the trimmings now being served up at ‘The Palace.’ Their direct attacking style of play is electric and although outstanding in their own individual ways, it is as a partnership that they seem to have flourished, often swapping wings in a game or both attacking down the same flank, causing chaos as the opposition are left chasing shadows or hauling them to the ground in a foolhardy attempt to stop them!
Wilf’s form during the October also contributed to him becoming the first Championship outfield player to be called up by England since Jay Bothroyd in 2010.

Speaking ten days ago BBC Sport pundit Mark Bright, who played for Palace and now helps out as a coach at the club said of Wilfried Zaha: "He is the biggest talent to emerge from Crystal Palace since Arsenal legend Ian Wright. In my opinion, Wilfried is the most exciting player outside the Premier League," Bright went on: "He played in the League Cup last season at Manchester United. Palace won with a Darren Ambrose screamer and Wilfried gave Rafael such a torrid time that they took him off."

Leon Osman, who made his England debut in the same match as Wilf against Sweden this month said of Zaha: "We have all been hearing about him for a year or so now. He came and trained on Monday morning and looked the real deal. He was direct, skilful and committing people."

His rise has not been an overnight one, but a gradual nurturing of a player with undoubted talent. However many players show talent at an early age but their careers often stagnate or go backwards. Some players are greedy, some are badly advised and as a result they leave at the wrong time or join the wrong club, but Wilf is an classic example of how to nurture talent correctly.

Zaha was born in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast and moved to South London with his family aged four, but has been at Crystal Palace FC since the age of 12.

Zaha was given his professional debut aged 17, making a substitute appearance at home to Cardiff City on 27th March 2010 by then caretaker manager Paul Hart.
Two years later, in March 2012, Zaha was voted 'The Football League's Young Player of the Year.'

Wilf follows in a long line of young players to roll off the CPFC academy production line. There are currently four players plying their trade in the Premier League who graduated through the Palace academy. No doubt Zaha wants to join the likes of Victor Moses at Chelsea, Ben Watson at Wigan, Nathaniel Clyne at Southampton and Wayne Routledge at Swansea in the top flight, but it is more a question of when rather than if, and with whom?

The vultures are circling, but Palace are currently top of the Championship and they find themselves in with a real opportunity of securing top flight football next season. Taking into account the odd dip in form most teams suffer at some stage of a season, along with a bit of luck such as keeping the squad fit and injury free, Palace are in a great position to dictate the future of their ‘wing wizard.’ Keeping hold of Zaha in January is the first step in maintaining a steady platform in the Club’s effort to reach English football’s top tier for the first time since the 2004/05 season.

EPL football would generate the club over £60m, even if they came straight back down, and the sale of Zaha in the region of £15-20m. But Palace, even with £15m burning a hole in their pocket could not buy a replacement for Zaha, as there is no player more gifted in the country to play his role in the team. Take £15m+ in January and risk missing out on a £60m+ windfall, or keep Wilf untill the summer thus improving the chance of that windfall becoming a reality and then sell the ‘boy wonder,’ assuming he chooses to simply a no brainer!

Even if Palace do not make it to the Premier League, nobody at the Club or any Palace fan would begrudge the youngster the opportunity to grace the stage of  Europe’s top domestic league. But Wilf is a local lad who has even admitted he misses ‘home’ when on international duty. His home being the structure in place at Palace to advise him, educate him, coach him and help him keep his feet firmly on the ground. By doing this Wilf can focus on achieving his personal and professional goals under the watchful guidance of the owners, management and his team-mates, who all play their part in contributing to his love affair with ‘The Eagles.’

Players of the calibre of Wilfried Zaha don’t come around very often, and it is important that the Club use him as a stepping stone to a brighter future and Wilf does likewise. It is imperative that Wilf continues to learn his trade while at Palace, so that when he does fly ‘The Eagle’s Nest’ he is ready both mentally and physically for what lies ahead.

We are witnessing the development of a player that may one day reach the heights of........well let’s just wait and see, and enjoy the moment!

Wilfried Zaha, remember the name!

Friday, November 16, 2012

International Caps and Historical Facts!

In Britain 'caps' are awarded to players making international appearances for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is a tradition dating back to the origins of the Football League in the Victorian age, when during games players routinely wore caps denoting club colours. The concept of each team wearing a set of matching shirts had not been universally adopted.
When the first international match took place in 1872 players wore caps, as was the norm. When outfield players ceased to wear caps some years later, representing one's country at football continued to be marked by the symbolic presentation of a cap.
The first caps were awarded to the players who participated in the Scotland v England international on 31st March 1886 in Glasgow.

Peter Shilton is the most capped England player of all time. The goalkeeper holds the record after playing 125 games for his country, including fifteen as captain. His last appearance was at the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy.

Six England players are centurions with 100 caps or more. As well as Shilton they are Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Billy Wright, David Beckham and most recently Steven Gerrard (right).

Of Billy Wright's 105 appearances for England, he captained the side on 91 occasions.

Ahmed Hassan (born 2 May 1975 in Maghagha, Egypt) is the most capped international male footballer in history with 184 appearances for Egypt.

On 30th May 2006, Theo Walcott became the youngest player to make his England debut, when he came on as a substitute against Hungary at the age of 17 years and 75 days.

The youngest player to be awarded a cap for Wales is Gareth Bale, (then of Southampton), who on 27th May 2006, aged 16 years and 315 days appeared as a substitute against Trinidad & Tobago.

The youngest British player ever to be awarded a full cap is Norman Whiteside who was 17 years and 41 days old when he made his debut for Northern Ireland against Yugoslavia on 17th June 1982 at the World Cup finals. He still holds the record as the youngest player to take part in a World Cup final tournament.

The oldest player to participate in a World Cup finals tournament was Cameroon's Roger Milla, who was 42 years and 39 days at the 1994 finals held in the USA. Cameroon were knocked out in the group stages, however Milla (right) scored a goal against Russia, setting a record as the oldest goalscorer in a World Cup finals match.

The oldest player to receive his first England cap is Alexander Morten, a goalkeeper with Crystal Palace, who was 41 years and 113 days old when he kept goal against Scotland on 6th March 1873.

The oldest player to have been capped by England is Sir Stanley Matthews, who was 42 years and 103 days old when he played against Denmark on 15th May 1957.

Jack Cock (Huddersfield Town) was the first Cornishman to be capped for England in 1920. Cock went on to become a popular variety star and also appeared in a number of British films.

The first Fourth Division player to win an international cap was Vic Rouse (Crystal Palace) for Wales against N.Ireland in 1959.

Johnny Byrne (right) won his first cap for England in 1962, while paying for Crystal Palace in the Third Division. Tommy Lawton (Notts County), Reg Matthews (Coventry), Peter Taylor (Crystal Palace) and Steve Bull (Wolves) also gained England caps while playing their football in the Third Division.

Cecil Moore (Sheffield Utd) was capped for Norther Ireland in 1949, emigrated to America, and appeared for the USA against England in 1953.

Johnny Carey (Manchester United, 1938-53) won 29 caps for the Republic of Ireland and seven for Northern Ireland.

Kevin Keegan was awarded his first England cap against Wales on 15th November 1972. His second cap was also against Wales (24th January 1973), as was his third (11th May 1974). He remains the only player to have played his first three games for England against the same opposition.

Gary Howlett (Brighton) travelled to the other side of the world to earn his first international cap and played for only 19 minutes. On the 3rd June 1984, Howlett was named as a substitute for the Republic of Ireland against China which was taking place in Sapporo, Japan,. Nineteen minutes from time he came on, but was never chosen to play for the Republic again.

James Milner (right) with 46 appearances and nine goals is the most capped England Under-21 International of all-time.

The only player to win both semi-professional and full caps for England is Steve Guppy. Guppy was chosen for the England semi-professional team while playing for Wycombe Wanderers in the Conference in 1989/90 and in 1999, when at Leicester City, he won his first and only cap for England against Belguim at the Stadium of Light.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Fantasy Football 2012/13 - The npower Championship. Update!

With one-third of the 2012/13 football season gone, I thought I would take this opportunity to update you all on my progress in this seasons Phones 4u sponsored Championship Fantasy Football league. In doing so I will also highlight any players that have shone, some that have had shockers and some unexpected performances whether good, bad or indifferent among all the players involved!

In August I selected eleven players from the second tier of English football that I felt would excel for their respective clubs this season, as I pitted my wits against friends and football fans around the country, in a 'foolish' attempt to convince myself that my knowledge of Championship football was equal to or maybe even superior to that of other football fans.

As the months have gone on, I have delved in and out of the transfer market as players have lost form, moved clubs or suffered injury.

A lot was expected of some players this season, some have delivered whilst others have failed. There are a lot of 'experienced' players in the Championship such as those among the ranks of the clubs relegated from the Premier League last season, namely Blackburn, Bolton and Wolves. I am thinking of the likes of Paul Robinson, Roger Johnson, Danny Murphy, Kevin Doyle and Kevin Davies. However of the three relegated clubs only Blackburn have been able to sustain some consistent form. Part of the reason for this has been down to their £8 million pre-season acquisition of Jordan Rhodes, who has found the back of the net eight times so far this season. Both Wolves and Bolton have struggled and sit 13th and 17th respectively in the Championship, as I speak.

Despite Bolton's woes which have included a change of manager, with Crystal Palace playing legend Dougie Freedman leaving the South London Club and taking over from Owen Coyle at the Reebok, Chris Eagles has been a hit this season and has the second highest points tally for a midfielder, behind Blackpool's Tom Ince. Ince and Palace's phenomenally talented Wilfred Zaha are without doubt the most exciting players to watch right now in the Championship. Zaha's wing wizardry has helped Palace to the top of the league, while Ince has contributed massively to Blackpool's solid start to the season with 8 goals and 6 assists. In an ironic twist Palace lured Blackpool boss Ian Holloway to Selhurst Park following the loss of Freedman, and he began his tenure last Tuesday with a 5-0 thumping of Ipswich. Glenn Murray was the hat-rick hero and his 13 league goals has been another reason for their lofty league position.

The Championship's top striker is Burnley's Charlie Austin. The 23 year-old hit man has bagged an astonishing 17 league goals in just 14 appearances for the Clarets, who sit just one place outside a play-off spot. If Burnley can tighten up defensively they may well be in with a shout this season.

Talking of defence, Brighton have conceded only 11 goals in their opening 15 matches and statistically they currently have the best goalkeeper in Tomasz Kuszczak, and they posses the highest scoring defenders in this seasons fantasy football competition. Salter, Bridge and Greer have scored 60 points between them and Brighton currently lie 8th in the league.

Of the clubs promoted from League One last season, namely Charlton Athletic, Sheffield Wednesday and Huddersfield Town, only Huddersfield have started well and currently lie in 7th place. Charlton currently lie 19th and Sheffield Wednesday 20th.

So how has all this reflected on my Championship fantasy football team since I selected it back in August?

In August my team was as follows:

Goalkeeper: Paddy Kenny (Leeds).

Defenders - Wes Morgan (Leicester), Anthony Gardner (Sheff Wed), Aaron Cresswell (Ipswich), Curtis Davies (Birmingham).

Midfielders - Chris Burke (Birmingham), Tom Ince (Blackpool) Wilf Zaha(Crystal Palace).

Strikers - Jordan Rhodes (Huddersfield, pictured right), Simon Cox (Forest), Marlon Harewood (Barnsley).

I have made seven transfers since the campaign kicked-off in August. First out the door was striker Stephen Fletcher who moved from Wolves to Premier league side Sunderland before a ball had been kicked. Then I replaced ex-Palace defender Anthony Gardner who wasn't getting a look in at Hillsborough, with Stephen Crainey who's Blackpool side were flying high early doors. Since then Crainey has only kept one clean sheet in eleven.  Ipswich's Aaron Cresswell was next to get the chop as his Ipswich team started and continue to have an awful season. Ipswich currently sit bottom of the league having conceded 31 goals in just 15 league games and have a goal difference of -20. I replaced Cresswell early in the campaign with Hull's Abdoulaye Faye, but his return has not been great, just one clean sheet in seven games, although he has netted twice. Next to go was Curtis Davies as his Birmingham side had real trouble keeping clean sheets, just two in 12 games before I let him go. To fill the defensive gap left by Davies I brought in another ex-Palace player Cardiff's Mark Hudson.

So three of my first four changes changes were all defenders, in what would be comfortably described as a real defensive headache if I were using footballing terminology. I certainly made a mess when I picked my back four in August!

Next out was Marlon Harewood who I genuinely believed would get a regular run out could bag a few goals at this level. Oh how wrong I was. Not only was he not scoring goals, he wasn't often in the Barnsley starting XI. I brought in Brighton's Ashley Barnes to replace him and Charlie Austin to replace Simon Cox. Cox was getting regular games at Forest but could not find the onion bag. After a return of one goal and two assists in eight games he had to go! With hindsight I should have had Austin in my team about ten games earlier.

My most recent change was my first in midfield. Birmingham's Chris Burke was having a 'mare' and although I persisted with him for eleven games neither he nor his side were showing signs of an up turn in their fortunes. One goal and one assist says it all. In his place I brought in the exciting Wolves midfielder Bakary Sako. The French under-21 international was a deadline day signing by Wolves boss Stale Solbakken and he scored in his first game after I signed him.......nice one Bakary!

It's not been a great opening three months for me, particularly compared to this stage last season when I had the likes of Rickie Lambert, Rob Earnshaw, Robert Snodgrass and Kevin Nolan tearing up defences left right and centre. However this season the league is much more competitive. There are no runaway leaders and only 7 points separate the top 10 teams. They are a lot of goals being scored in the Championship this season and not a lot of clean sheets being kept. It is apparent that the strikers certainly have the upper hand over the defenders as we go into the second third of the season. Finding a a decent back four and goalkeeper could be the key to winning this competition!

As it stands today my current team is as follows:

Goalkeeper: Paddy Kenny (Leeds).

Defenders - Wes Morgan (Leicester), Stephen Crainey (Blackpool), Abdoulaye Faye (Hull), Mark Hudson (Cardiff).

Midfielders - Bakary Sako (Wolves, pictured right), Tom Ince (Blackpool), Wilf Zaha (Crystal Palace).

Strikers - Jordan Rhodes (Blackburn), Ashley Barnes (Brighton), Charlie Austin (Burnley).

I am 15,548th overall in the whole competition, 17th of 28 players in the 'Holmesdale Radio' private league, 237th of 449 in the 'Official Crystal Palace FC' private league and 23rd of 39 in the '' private league.

Until next time............good luck!

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Babe of the Month - There's Always Hope!

American beauty Hope Solo on hand to warm you up on a cold winter's night!