Wilfred Zaha primed for biggest stage after his most prolific season for Crystal Palace
The Eagles are no strangers to speculation regarding the future of their star man given they strategically safeguarded his value with a new five-year deal with him last summer.
However, the issue facing Zaha is not that he’s been locked down by the club, but rather where does he go to in search of Champions League football?
The 26-year-old is entering his prime and is enjoying the best football of his career.
Having expressed a desire to play in Europe’s top competition it’s unlikely he’ll remain in red and blue next season.
Since returning to South London from his disastrous spell at Manchester United in 2015, the winger has been crucial in keeping the Eagles in the top flight, scoring or assisting 63 goals in 145 games for the club.
Never before has a Premier League team relied so heavily on a single player. That might sound harsh on the rest of the squad, which over the years has featured the likes of Yohan Cabaye and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, yet the Eagles hadn’t won a single point in the league, stretching over two-seasons, without their star man until last December’s victory over Leicester City.
It’s no real surprise Zaha wants to leave his hometown club, with Palace never finishing higher than 10th and equalling their record points haul in 2018/19 with 49 accrued.
Palace Chairman Steve Parish is reportedly understanding of his prized asset’s desire to play Champions League football, and while he’s not exactly standing in the player’s way, he’s unwilling to listen to offers below £100 million.
That valuation exceeds pretty much every club’s estimations of Zaha, other than the Eagle’s – to whom selling him could be the difference between Premier League and Championship football.
This season he hit 10 goals for this first time in his career along with five assists. He also registered more shots (73) and more passes (1,006) than in any of his previous seasons and his skill on the ball has made him one of the most fouled players in Europe.
If evidence is require of the player Zaha how grown into, then look at his performance against Liverpool in January.
James Milner was terrorised at right-back and he was eventually sent off for two reckless fouls on Zaha. Jurgen Klopp hailed him as “world class”.
Similarly, Pep Guardiola admitted he, too is a fan of the winger, but despite the high-praise, both Manchester City and Liverpool are well stocked in attacking areas and unlikely to sign a player of Zaha’s ilk.
In England, that leaves potentially Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham as possible destinations.
The Gunners are among those strongly linked with the Ivory Coast international with cash-plus-player(s) deal reportedly being proposed.
That would of course hinge on their success in the Europa League final but no doubt the prospect of him linking up with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette entices.
Elsewhere, Chelsea may not even be in a position to sign any players given their two-window transfer ban.
And so that leaves Spurs. Zaha has the right profile for Mauricio Pochettino’s outfit but the problem for them, given they’ve only just moved into their new £1 billion stadium, is cost.
The club had a self-imposed transfer window ban in 2018/19 and didn’t sign a single player so the idea of them meeting the asking price for Zaha is unlikely.
Perhaps, Manchester United is an option having previously work with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer during his 2014 loan spell at Cardiff, the pair know each other well.
Zaha’s signature could be the start of a new era at Old Trafford as United look to rebuild a squad that finished a whopping 32 points behind champions Manchester City.
Yet, issues emerge here. United have agreed personal terms with Swansea winger Daniel James adding the Wales international to Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford to their wing corps.
Not to mention Zaha himself describing his first-spell at United as “hell”. Moving abroad is an option but then his asking price and wages, his deal which runs until 2023 is worth £130,000 per week, limits his destinations.
Zaha thrives as star of the show and at Selhurst Park he’s been allowed the freedom to roam and try things on the ball without teammates, or indeed the crowd getting on his back – would he be afforded such luxury away from his boyhood club? Probably not.
Does he need to leave Palace to fulfil his potential? No question. A player of his ability deserves to be playing at the highest level and having helped the Eagles reach the Premier League, let alone stay in it, fans wouldn’t begrudge their star man a move to a bigger club.
Despite signing on the dotted line and telling fans he’s, “All Palace” less than twelve months ago, it’s clear this Eagle is ready to spread his wings… he just needs to find somewhere to fly.