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.
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 leave.......is 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!