Bournemouth v Crystal Palace: Why Wilfried Zaha is at a career crossroads – Jermaine Jenas

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June 20, 2020
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    Match of the Day

    Jermaine Jenas is part of the commentary team for Bournemouth v Crystal Palace on Saturday, the first Premier League game to be shown live on the BBC. Coverage starts from 19:15 BST on BBC One and the BBC Sport website.

    There are few scarier sights for defenders than seeing Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha running at them, one-on-one.

    He’s tricky, strong and quick – all of which makes it so hard to stop him fairly.

    If you watch Palace play Bournemouth on BBC One on Saturday night, then you’ll love watching Wilf – because he always entertains.

    I rate him extremely highly but there is an issue with his end product. His numbers for goals and assists are not as high as they should be for a player of his ability, and they don’t tally with his club’s asking price for him either.

    Zaha has scored three goals in the Premier League in 2019-20 (ranked equal 65th) and made three assists (ranked equal 42nd). He has created 28 chances (ranked equal 46th)

    Zaha has created 28 chances this season, ranking him 46th in the Premier League. His best seasons for chances were 2017-18 and 2018-19 when he made 53 and 54, ranking him 20th on each occasion

    For upwards of £70m, which is what Palace wanted last summer, I’d expect someone to get me 15 goals a season and a load of assists, otherwise I’m not doing the deal.

    Wilf’s stats don’t meet that criteria but you can’t say that is just his fault because they’re also affected by the system he operates in.

    I’d argue he plays within himself for Palace, and the discipline he shows is one of the impressive things about him.

    Eagles manager Roy Hodgson asks everyone to play in a certain way and it is quite restrictive for a player like Wilf, but he still does a really good job for the team at carrying the ball up the field, managing his temperament when he is fouled – which happens a lot – and unlocking defences.

    Graphic showing Zaha has tried more take-ons - defined by Opta as an attempt to dribble past an opponent - than any other Premier League player this season

    Zaha has tried more take-ons – defined by Opta as an attempt to dribble past an opponent – than any other Premier League player this season. He is the second most fouled player (94) behind Jack Grealish of Aston Villa (127)

    Zaha allows Palace to play counter-attacking football with a really strong foundation. They also know if he gets possession, he will buy them time to recover and regroup, and the minimum they will get is a free-kick that will allow them to play in the opposition half.

    Doing all of that, even doing it really well, does not showcase his talent to the full, though. He is 27 and these are his peak years. He should be in a team that really plays to his strengths, preferably in the Champions League which is where he belongs.

    That is why the next transfer window will be the right time for him to move on. That is not being disrespectful to Palace, it is just showing respect to Zaha and his ability.

    I told Zaha to join Spurs in 2018

    Zaha’s problem when it comes to getting a move is the same as it has always been – Palace’s chairman Steve Parish understandably sees him as the jewel in his crown and is holding out for a big fee for him.

    We saw at the end of last summer that Wilf got frustrated by that when he was not allowed to leave for less than Palace’s asking price.

    Wilfried Zaha celebrates a goal for Crystal Palace

    Zaha began his career with Palace in 2004. In two permanent and two loan spells at the club, he has scored a total of 56 goals in 353 appearances for the Eagles in all competitions

    In my opinion, he’s in this situation because he made a mistake – which was signing a new five-year contract with Palace in the summer of 2018 when he was being targeted by Tottenham and Chelsea.

    That put him on massive money – more than £100,000 per week – so I understand why he signed it, but it was always going to make it a lot harder for him if he decided to move on.

    I actually bumped into him in a restaurant around that time and talked to him about Tottenham. I was encouraging him to go if he got the chance.

    I told him you are not going to be going there for the money, so get that out of your head straight away, but you’ll be playing Champions League football, you’ll be playing attacking football, and you’ll be getting to do more of what you want to do on the pitch.

    I also told him then what I’m saying again now – that this is his time to show what he’s capable of on a global stage and, if he’s not careful, those years will tick by without him capitalising on his talent and then the next players will come along and do it instead.

    That’s what is happening, though. It is two years on, and while he is still extremely important to Palace, I just don’t think his profile is up there where it should be when people talk about the top attackers in European football and offer the stats to back that up.

    Wilf will have been watching Jadon Sancho smash it up for Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League as part of the next generation, but even players like Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil get mentioned ahead of him in that conversation, and Ozil hardly plays anymore.

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    Both parties have been rewarded for their loyalty so far – Palace for bringing him back from Manchester United when things were not going well for him and, on Zaha’s part, for staying as long as he has done and continuing to produce performance-wise.

    So, club and player have done a lot for each other but at the end of the season they will both have to make an important decision about what happens next.

    Wilfried Zaha

    Zaha was Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signing as Manchester United boss, for an initial fee of £10m in January 2013, but never played for him as he was loaned back to Palace for the remainder of that season. In two years at Old Trafford, Zaha did not start a Premier League game and made only four appearances in total for United before rejoining the Eagles in the summer of 2014. United will get 25% of any fee Palace receive for him

    I think Zaha will have a clear understanding of where he needs to be at this stage of his career, but making that happen with a fresh start any time soon might not be easy.

    The impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on the finances of many clubs means this isn’t a time when there will be many takers if Parish sticks with his £70m valuation.

    It could be that Palace consider cashing in on Zaha, and would accept a much lower offer, but even that might not get him the move he wants.

    The reality is that there are attack-minded players who are proven Premier League performers available for nothing next month. That’s what he will be up against.

    If you are a club owner and you have the option to go for Zaha for big money or take Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser or Liverpool’s Adam Lallana on a free, then it is obvious who you will go for.

    Fraser plays in exactly the same position as Zaha, on the left, and delivers far more in terms of goals and assists, possibly on the basis of the team he plays for and the freedom his manager Eddie Howe gives him.

    Graphic showing Ryan Fraser made 14 assists in 2018-19, ranking him second in the Premier League. This season he has four assists (ranked joint-28th) and has made 45 chances (ranked joint-13th)

    Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser made 14 assists in 2018-19, ranking him second in the Premier League. This season he has four assists (ranked joint-28th) and has made 45 chances (ranked joint-13th)

    It doesn’t look like Fraser will play for the Cherries on Saturday because he has opted not to sign a short-term deal, but being out of contract makes him attractive to lots of clubs.

    I can see some strange things happening in the next window with a lot of players on free transfers going to places you wouldn’t have thought – but I just cannot see anyone forking out £70m for Zaha, unfortunately for him.

    Jermaine Jenas was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.


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    June 20, 2020
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