In an era where footballers are becoming increasingly driven by laurels and huge paycheck, Wilfried Zaha displayed loyalty by committing his long-term future to Crystal Palace. The Ivorian winger has set the trail for others to follow.
It is difficult to find a one-club man. These days, players are so blinded by the personal glory that they scorn some core values. Those values they learnt as fans. Respect. Loyalty. Dedication. Every now and then, players publicly express discontent at their club. Not minding the faithful.
Of all active players in Europe’s top five leagues, only five have remained with boyhood clubs. AS Roma’s Daniel de Rossi, Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke. The other two are Barcelona breed; Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets. There is no such breed in the Premier League.
Zaha may not cut it with this bunch. But if there’s another class just beneath these ones, he’d definitely find his way there. Despite interests from supposed bigger clubs, the 25-year-old signed a contract extension at Selhurst Park. The new deal will keep him there until the summer of 2023 and he will earn around £130,000 a week.
Zaha’s sojourn has been that of patience and grit. After moving to London from the Ivory Coast with his parents as a child, he joined the Academy and quickly progressed through the ranks. He made his senior debut against Cardiff in March 2010, aged 18, before establishing himself as a first-team regular.
Following the club’s near liquidation that summer which forced the sale of several high-profile players, Zaha went from hot prospect to first-team in a matter of months. He started the club’s first game of the 2010/11 season alongside fellow academy prospects Kieron Cadogan, Nathaniel Clyne and Kieran Djilali, scoring his only goal of the season in a 3-2 home win over Leicester. He went on to make 44 appearances in all competitions that season.
Two years later, Zaha’s star became so bright that it attracted Manchester United. He was loaned back to the Eagles for the final part of the 2012-13 season as part of the transfer, but on his debut for his new club in the Community Shield victory over Wigan, he played 61 minutes and won his first major honour in club football.
Chances after this were limited, however, and he was deemed surplus to requirements by David Moyes. In January 2014, he was loaned out to Cardiff City in attempt to gain more first-team football.
The winger went on to make 12 appearances for the Bluebirds, including a game against former club Palace where the Eagles ran out 3-0 winners. The following summer, Zaha moved back to Palace, signed on loan by Neil Warnock.
On the final day of the January transfer window, he made his move back to South London permanent on a five-and-a-half-year contract.
Zaha and Palace have benefited massively from the reunion.
In the four years since his return, Zaha has made 130 league appearances, with Palace enjoying a 33.1 per cent win rate in those games and scoring 1.25 goals per game. In 23 matches without him in that time, their win rate drops to 21.7 per cent with 0.87 goals per game.
A quarter of league goals by Palace players in open play last season came from Zaha continuing an upward trend. Having scored four goals in 2014-15 (9.8 per cent) and two the following season (5.9 per cent), his contribution jumped to 16 per cent in 2016-17 with seven out of 44 and then last term’s nine out of 36.
Zaha would have moved to a top side with bigger outlay and trophy prospect too, however, remaining at Palace proved loyalty.
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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