If Crystal Palace were unsure whether Wilfried Zaha had altered his plans following a botched attempt to force his way out of Selhurst Park in the summer, the news that he has hired super-agent Pini Zahivi should serve as a resounding ‘NO’.
The 76-year-old Israeli has cultivated a reputation as one of the world’s most effective football agents. He brokered Roman Abramovich’s purchase of Chelsea, with whom he retains a close relationship, and orchestrated Rio Ferdinand’s record breaking move to Manchester United.
Zaha’s bid to leave SE25 became one of the transfer sagas of the summer. Arsenal, Tottenham and then Everton were all credited with a desire to sign the Ivorian.
When Arsenal’s interest materialised, Zaha was away on AFCON duty. His brother, Judicael, told Sky Sports: “Given all that Wilfried has given to Crystal Palace to help them remain a Premier League club, I hope Palace will be able to see their way to agreeing a deal with Arsenal that allows Wilfried to realise his dream of playing European football for the club he has supported since childhood.”
The comments infuriated Palace fans who felt that the club owed little to a player who had been brought through the academy, turned into a global superstar and paid handsomely for the privilege. Furthermore, Palace had already allowed Zaha to pursue one supposed dream move when they sold him to Manchester United in 2013. However, when things went sour the Eagles rescued Zaha from an experience that he later described as ‘hell’.
With Palace reluctant to sell for a fee less than £80 million, reasonable only in the current climate of football fee madness, Arsenal eventually signed Zaha’s international teammate Nicolas Pepe instead.
Cash rich and ambitious, Everton then became keen on a move. However, they also failed to get close to Palace’s valuation of the winger. Whereas Zaha had previously attempted to engineer a move via third parties to avoid upsetting an adoring fan base, he was finally forced to reveal his intentions publicly and submitted a transfer request. The move didn’t come to fruition and Everton eventually signed Alex Iwobi instead. However, the damage was done in the eyes of Palace fans who felt betrayed.
Zaha has never fully recovered. Initially made to train away from the rest of the squad, he was eventually integrated back into the group and the team. However, his impact for Palace this season has substantially diminished.
Ten goals from 34 appearances last season, 0.29 per game, has reduced to three goals in 21 this year, 0.14 per game. He’s also creating less big chances, fewer assists and isn’t taking as many shots. Although Zaha is still as effective with the ball at his feet, second only to Adama Traore in the dribbling statistics, most Palace supporters would tell you that he just hasn’t been the same.
So what happens next? With the transfer window open again and Zahavi now fighting his corner, Zaha speculation is once again ramping up. Bayern Munich have already had a loan bid rejected. Chelsea’s transfer ban has lifted. A toothless Spurs are desperate for some more firepower. These would appear to be the main three contenders.
However, Zaha should think twice before succumbing to the wealth and glitz of the bigger clubs. If he is to leave the club that made his career once again, this time it must be for the right club. Why? Just take a look at the plight of his two summer suitors, Arsenal and Everton.
After 21 games of the season, both are below Palace in the Premier League table having already sacked their manager. Additionally, each of the players bought instead of Zaha (Pepe and Iwobi) have endured a terrible start to the campaign. With Chelsea and Spurs, Zaha would be walking into clubs with the same propensity to meltdown.
Chelsea regularly win silverware but also sack managers at will and are never far from another storm. Zaha could find himself in the starting elevenone week under Frank Lampard, yet might left out of the squad completely under a new manager the next.
Spurs, once the model of consistency and stability under Mauricio Pochettino, decided to invite the circus to town when replacing him with Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese is known for hanging his players out to dry. If Zaha rocked up at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium he couldn’t count on the unquestionable backing that he currently receives from Roy Hodgson.
It is understandable that Zaha wants to win trophies and play European football as he enters his peak years. Most Palace fans wouldn’t begrudge him that. However, the manner in which he went about it has damaged his standing at the club. And if those are his primary ambitions then why throw your toys out of the pram over failed moves to Arsenal and Everton? Neither of whom are close to the summit of English football now.
The suspicion is that Zaha just wants a move almost regardless of destination. With that in mind, perhaps Palace would be prudent to sell.
With his contribution diminishing, Palace have thrived this season despite Zaha, not because of him. Indeed, they should follow the example of Leicester who have shrewdly sold their biggest players, Riyad Mahrez, N’Golo Kante and Harry Maguire, for huge fees in recent years before investing the money wisely. It’s an approach that has worked brilliantly, they now find themselves second in the Premier League.
Whilst Palace might not have quite such lofty ambitions, using the proceeds of a Zaha sale to strengthen the squad could give them a fantastic chance of finishing the season in the top half, if not sneaking a Europa League position.
It now looks inevitable that Zaha will depart. If not in January then certainly in the summer. However, though the lure of the big clubs is understandable he should certainly look before he leaps.