It looks as if Wilfried Zaha’s time at Crystal Palace is coming to an end. Having been at the club since 10 years old, barring a brief season at Manchester United, the Ivory Coast international has just weeks left on his contract at Selhurst Park and it’s unlikely he’ll extend his stay in south London. Zaha will likely go down as the best player in Palace history, but as he enters his 30s will he have any regrets? Palace are at a crossroads, and look to remain so until his contract officially expires.
On multiple occasions since returning to his boyhood club in 2015, it looked like Zaha would leave after handing in transfer requests. Only a couple of years ago the likes of Arsenal and Everton were on his radar and offering big money, but as the winger continues to age and perhaps his peak years are behind him, clubs are now weighing up the pros and cons of offering Zaha a contract, having signed a £130,000 extension at Palace in 2018.
While they pay no transfer fee, the Ivorian’s reported £200,000-per-week asking price will certainly be off-putting, however, it guarantees a ready-made Premier League star and a winger who has been on the periphery of world-class for a number of years.
It looked like Palace were building something special under Patrick Vieira, but despite the Frenchman avoiding relegation and reaching the FA Cup semi-final in his maiden year, he perhaps overachieved and was sacked when unable to replicate that success. The relegation battle is perilous and while Roy Hodgson is a safe pair of hands, it’s understandable why Zaha would want to avoid Groundhog Day and visit pastures new.
The Palace manager insisted there were plenty of reasons why the Ivorian should stay put in south London, and while his own future is hanging in the balance, especially when you consider his age and how ruthless Steve Parish can be when handling the managerial gauntlet, whoever is in charge of the Eagles would rely on the mercurial talent of Zaha. He’s just that good. And on paper, given the resources the club have in over a decade of Premier League survival and stability, Hodgson’s words make sense.
“The club has had conversations with him and they’ll continue, but I have no idea what the outcome will be or how advanced they are,” he said. “All I can hope for, as a Palace fan, is that we will still be able to see him playing for Crystal Palace next season, but I can’t give you an insider update.
“It’s a good club, we have a good team and it’s getting stronger rather than weaker. The potential is big and they hope next season to do better than this season. They’re all very good reasons [for Zaha] to stay.
“Plus, if you’re that much of a club legend then that’s maybe a further incentive to stay on. There are plenty of reasons why he could stay if he wanted to and plenty of reasons why the club would want him to.
“He’s already left a big legacy. His performances for the club, coming through the ranks, I don’t think he needs to concern himself over his legacy. It’s more about where he sees his future and where he wants that to be.”
Having a player like Zaha in your squad, even if he won’t be a guaranteed starter, is surely adding firepower to a side’s attack, and after years of battling relegation odds Premier League teams and those abroad must surely be interested.
With Tottenham Hotspur needing a major rebuild after some mediocre seasons recently, Zaha could be exactly what Spurs need to inject some energy into a depleted dressing room. The likes of Lucas Moura and Georges-Kévin N’Koudou have represented some mediocre talent out wide and little competition for Ivan Perisic and Dejan Kulusevski, but with the Brazilian leaving Spurs this summer there’s a chance for Zaha to establish himself as a regular in a side that should be playing Europa League football bar any capitulation in Ryan Mason’s last few games.
It’s still unclear who the next permanent manager will be at the time of writing, but integrating Zaha into their squad shouldn’t be too difficult given the winger’s pace and versatility. But there’s also the possibility of going abroad.
Over the years we’ve seen Borussia Dortmund take a fancy to sides in England when recruiting players, and after a failed move in 2019 they may now go back in for Zaha. His experience could be a perfect way of developing the young talent at the Signal Iduna Park, including Youssoufa Moukoko and former Manchester City academy star Jamie Bynoe-Gittens.
Zaha is an established winger who could slot straight into Edin Terzić’s team, who look to take Bayern Munich to the final day in their challenge for the Bundesliga title. It would also give Zaha the opportunity to play in the Champions League and if Jude Bellingham is offloaded then there’s likely to be some more world-class signings heading to Westphalia.
Palace still have an exciting summer lined up. Ismaïla Sarr looks like he’ll join up with former manager Hodgson after Watford’s tough season in the Championship has them rooted in the second tier. The Hornets will have felt an inevitability over the Senegal international’s departure, and he not only would be an excellent replacement for Zaha if he does depart, he could provide great competition for places and allow the Ivorian to move inside and create more.
Elsewhere, the likes of Jefferson Lerma of Bournemouth and Flamengo’s Matheus França have been linked with Selhurt Park. They’re encouraging signings and a step in the right direction as the Palace board want to show Zaha he isn’t wasting his latter years battling midtable obscurity.
It will certainly be interesting to see what the near future holds for Zaha. His contract expires at the end of June so you won’t imagine it’s long before teams come calling. He’ll be held in high esteem at Selhurst Park for years to come, but you get the sense that now is the right time to move on. Throughout the summer you’d expect more suitors interested in his signature, and now begins one of the most interesting transfer sagas to follow this window.