Zaha’s departure is long overdue

Wilfried Zaha is as magical as he is frustrating, he is one of the Premier League’s top talents and yet he seems to be counted amongst the best at times and at times he can be easily forgotten.

The 27-year-old Ivorian international has been linked with moves to Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton, and Arsenal over the past three or so summer transfer windows. When the transfer news broke the aforementioned teams’ fans were split on Zaha, in what looked like a 50/50 split if one goes off the mood on social media. That seems to summarize the player who is known to be Crystal Palace’s danger man and has opposition manager setting schemes to nullify his influence in a game, yet he seems to not cause any danger when all is said and done.

Hodgson wants Zaha situation resolved
That said the player could well be on his way once again as the transfer rumour starts to heat up, as silly season is upon us. Roy Hodgson was quoted in an article on admitting that he had given up on trying to convince Wilfried Zaha to stay at the club, Hodgson laid into his star forward as he called him out for his poor form in the Project Restart period. Zaha only managed a solitary goal in eight games that started and completed the full ninety minutes. Hodgson would love for the club and the player to find a resolution for the want-away forward, but with a short transfer window and most of his destinations to be are strapped for cash. Palace values their star player at a reported 80 million Pounds while has the number at 44 million Euros. Time will tell within this protracted battle.

Zaha had four goals and three assists in thirty-seven starts in the league this season, a paltry return compared to the ten goals and five assists from the previous campaign.

A look at what makes Zaha’s tick
Zaha is a very durable player who started a personal best thirty-seven league games this past season and his lowest number of starts at Palace was 24 back in 2014/15. For years he has wooed the Premier League with his fantastic dribbling and his ability to score or set up goals on the counter, which makes him threat against any opposition. He is a player who is fouled often, and he is central to anything good happening for Palace.
Zaha’s tenacity is another underrated aspect of his play, he never shies away from taking on any defender, even the ones who are clearly trying to break his ankles. He takes them as if it is a personal duel, kick him and on the next possession, he comes straight for you with one mission which is to dribble past you. He plays with a lot of heart.

Zaha can link up with his centre forward with neat intricate short passes around the eighteen-yard box, he had an 81% pass success percentage of his 21.04 passes per game. Zaha’s passing ability is not the first thing that pops up at you when you watch him play but last season it was superior to players such as Roberto Firmino 79.6%, Marcus Rashford 77.3%, Mo Salah 76.5%, Christian Pulisic 79.9%, and Ayoze Perez 79.7%.

His ability to anywhere in the frontline makes him an attractive prospect for many of the bigger teams in Europe, whether he will be used as a starter or a tactical substitution his versatility is an asset that many a club would like to have in their arsenal.

When one looks at Zaha’s skillset, pace, and dribbling ability its easy to see that he is talented but those of us who are obsessed with statistics will argue that he is not as good as he should be. Is that because of the calibre of players he lines up with or is he just inconsistent? I have been critical of Zaha and what kind of impact he has had in any one of the Premier League’s top teams and I have been quite harsh on him.

What could Zaha look like in a better team?
Zaha would easily improve his numbers interms of overall involvement in a game, at Crystal Palace most his time and energy is spent running back towards his own goal to help out defensively, whereas in a team that has a decent ability to retain the ball he will have more time on the ball and he can influence the play as someone with his talent must do. Zaha needs better service and quicker balls played into him putting him on the front foot, things he hasn’t fed on at Crystal Palace. This would result in his shots per game, dribbles per game and assists to see an upward tick.

Zaha has scored thirty six goals in his time at Palace where he never had decent supply from midfield despite having played on teams with Joe Ledley, Jordan Mutch Yohan Cabaye, Jason Puncheon, and Max Meyer. Makes his thirty-six goals look like they are something right? His assists on the other hand amount to 24 for Palace and here is a list of the calibre of strikers he has been tasked to create goals for Benteke, Wickham, Campbell, Batshuayi, and Ayew. Its safe to say if he had played with a striker or two with the consistency he would have better assist numbers. Stating that Zaha will improve significantly seems like a simplistic way to look at things but his numbers show that there is a ceiling to his contributions which he can reach if he has a few players on his level playing with him. Zaha could easily average double-digit goals and assists per season in a better team.

Zaha would look like a happier and supremely motivated version of himself if he landed a spot on a different team, and I am not just referring to one of the top Premier League sides. There is empirical evidence that shows how much better a motivated player can play and just how much better one can be after securing a dream move. No one can fault Hodgson for bemoaning the performances he has received from Zaha in the tail end of the season, the player has been stuck at Palace for the better part of two and a half seasons now.

Zaha does have some work to do to make the step up and he would first need to his ability to hold up the ball, he was dispossessed a league-high 148 times this season an average of 3,9 times per game. This needs to improve for his game to have more of an impact.

Possible landing spots
The economic impact left by the pandemic enforced break in football and the impact it had on fans filling up stadia around Europe is set to be felt in this very transfer window, with many football experts predicting a record rise in swap deals, loan signings and deals sealed on instalment terms. Such scenarios do not bode well for Zaha and his camp as Crystal Palace will not entertain any swap deals for their player if a sizeable portion of his transfer fee is not met, it is also unlikely he will leave on a loan, and thus far they are said to be unwilling to sell their star on terms.
This all means Zaha’s options will be limited in the Premier League. Manchester City who were linked with him in the wake of Leroy Sane’s departure is a step closer to sealing the transfer of Spanish winger Ferran Torres. Manchester United, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea can afford to look elsewhere as they seem to be happy with their wide options and could be pressed into investing elsewhere. That leaves Arsenal who could be tempted to shore up the left side of their midfield, but with a very limited transfer kitty and the emergence of Bukayo Saka they could focus on other positions. What of Everton? They could be a viable option for the Ivorian as well. However, if he and his team are open to a move abroad they could find some joy there. No one would fault any of Europe’s top teams if they bring in Zaha as an impact player, and then there are sides like AC Milan, Atalanta who are desperate to be counted amongst the better sides in their division. Or Borrusia Dortmund who could lose Jadon Sancho to Manchester United, they could look to Zaha as a capable replacement.
Zaha vs Palace round four will be an interesting battle to keep an eye on as the window rolls on, that said, one thing is for sure, Zaha’s departure has been long overdue.

A special shout out goes to my good friend @musemwac, whose staunch defence of Zaha made me interrogate my own conclusions and write this piece. Thanks buddy.


Philani Mukwakwami


Sports are a hobby horse of mine, what happens in-between the lines is just as thrilling as what happens outside of them.