You always hurt the ones you love.
That is how the saying goes right? I think we have all experienced it in our families, our relationships, be it as the one doing it, or the one on the end of it. Sometimes, Palace can provide the same scenario, and this summer has certainly been one of them. After a positive end to last season, seeing us finish with our highest ever points total, having avoided the dreaded bottom three all season, we once again found ourselves going into the summer full of hope and optimism. Then, for the sixth summer running, the club found a way to take those hopes and flush them down the toilet! This time though, it is not entirely the club's fault. Yes, the failure to spend our incomings on a much needed right back and striker, that is the club's fault. Two key factors though, that have really dug into the heart of fans, which have been beyond the club, are the departure of AWB, and the attempted departure of talisman Wilfred Zaha. Now, I have already covered Aaron's departure, with my very honest opinion on it. Now, it is time to share my very honest opinion on the whole Zaha saga, and some will not like it.
Now, let me start by saying this. I love Wilf, I have always done so, like almost every other Palace fan. He is such a talent, with so much passion and heart and pride when he wears the shirt. It has truly been an honour to watch him play for us, one hundred percent. There is no denying, that he has been a key part in our survival over the years, with his ability to release the pressure, to tear defences apart, win penalties and score goals. He gets abuse from opposition fans all over the country, be it at the games, or on social media. They do it, because they wish their team had a player like him, and because they don't, they can't handle it and lash out. Manager's throw accusations at him, such as him being a diver, something that just isn't true. They do it, because they wish they had him in their team, and can't handle the damage he has just done them. He is Selhurst Park's favourite son. He is the only player with any form of a chance of getting anywhere near Jim Cannon's appearance record. He is already a club icon, but could go on to be one of its ultimate legends if he stayed. Therein lies the problem, as this summer he revealed that staying is not what he wants to do.
As I delve further into this, let me first clarify one thing. I do not condone the booing of players, nor do I advocate it. No matter how poor a performance may be, I will never boo the team, or one of our players. I am just not that kind of person. I would rather take a step back, and put together a structured opinion like this. Why am I saying this? Well, that will become clear in a bit.
So, let's go back to the start of the summer. A fine attacking display had seen us put 5 past Bournemouth, we had said our farewells to a true legend in Julian Speroni, and we were all hoping for a good proactive summer to finally see us kick on in our record seventh consecutive Premier League season. Naturally, faint rumours circulated that both Zaha and Wan-Bissaka would be leaving in the transfer window, rumours I laughed off. Zaha was always subject to these rumours, it was nothing new, while AWB had just had a statistically phenomenal season, so naturally people would be interested in his services. I was adamant, that come the opening day, both would still be in our ranks. I was wrong. Although, as painful as it was to see a quality talent in AWB not only leave, but go to those undeserving fiends at Old Trafford, at least that deal was done quickly. The Zaha situation, on the other hand, dragged out the entire transfer window. Something like that, always has a negative effect on a club, it is inevitable.
It started with stories 'leaking', meaning Wilf's representatives spreading the word, that Wilf wanted Champions League football, and so wanted to leave the club this summer. The club reaction was to say that if clubs meet our valuation of him(said to be in the region of £80-£100million), then we would sell him. This, in all honesty, was a fair stand point. Wilf wanting to test himself at the highest level, in Europe, made sense to me, and I could understand it. I could also understand that if we were going to lose, not only a key player, but a piece of this club's heart, then it was going to be on our terms, as it should be. The only frustration at this point, was that the desire to leave had not come from the mouth of the man himself. Then, Arsenal made a bid. What that bid was exactly, and how many were made, no one other than Steve Parish and Dougie Freedman truly know. What we do know, is that it did not meet our valuation of Wilf, so it was rejected. Cue WIlf's brother, who is part of his management team I believe. Out comes the brother with the story of how playing for Arsenal was Wilf's boyhood dream, and we must let him move there to fulfil it. Excuse me? Seriously? We've already had to put up with AWB wheeling out a family picture of him as a kid in his United shirt(before he had even left), now we were getting fed the line that Wilf dreamt of playing for Arsenal. I am still waiting for Alexander Sorloth to tell the story of how his mum gave birth to him in Trabzonspor, and from that very day, had vowed he would play for them.
So, while Wilf was in Egypt balancing playing for the Ivory Coast, with day dreams of scoring a goal in front of the lifeless home crowd at the Emirates wearing the red and white, here in the UK, Arsenal fans were begging him on social media to join them, and claiming it was a guaranteed done deal. Meanwhile, every single Palace fan was scratching their heads, wondering how a move to Arsenal would fulfil his Champions League dream, a competition they have not been in for at least three seasons now. While everyone argued the toss, there seemed to be little movement behind the scenes, until Arsenal announced the signing of Pepe, which in turn ruled out Zaha's boyhood dream. With no other club linked during that time, it seemed as though Wilf would be staying, and we could just get on with our preparations.
Alas, no, that was not to be. Step forward European giants, Everton. That's right, the Toffees wanted our man, and with all their riches, they we hell bent on getting him(apparently). Rumours broke of an initial bid of £50m plus James McCarthy and Cenk Tosun. It was a bid lauded by Evertonians, laughed at by Palace fans, and rejected by Parish. Now, all the talk focused on a move to Goodison Park. Everton fans took to Social Media, claiming he would be their player, that he would play against us on the opening day. Palace fans, meanwhile, were scratching our heads once again, wondering how this move would fulfil Wilf's dream of Champions League football, when Everton had not only failed to qualify for any form of Europe, but they had finished just five points ahead of us last season.
We then stumbled into the final few days of the transfer window, and Sky broke the news of a new bid. This time, Everton had supposedly bid £70m, plus McCarthy and Tosun. Everton fans were once again celebrating their new signing, while Palace fans were back to scratching that now sore spot on our heads, wondering why the deal would include McCarthy, who at that time, Sky were reporting was already having a medical with us in a different transfer deal. Either Everton are packed full of James McCarthy's, or someone was telling porky pies. The deal was apparently rejected, and so, on deadline day eve, news broke that Zaha had handed in a transfer request.
This, for me, was breaking point for my feelings towards Wilf. Doing it that late, over a move to a club not much bigger than ourselves, was just ridiculous. He had given us virtually no time to find a replacement, putting our deadline day focus in jeopardy. It also meant, that if he didn't get sold, we were then stuck with a drama. The moment that news was announced, I wanted him gone. Yes, to lose his talent would have been gutting, but I don't want anyone playing for us, who doesn't want to be here.
Then came deadline day, with news Wilf was at training, then news Wilf wasn't at training. The hours ticked by, with no sign of a deal. Then, with two hours left to go, the club announced Wilf isn't leaving, and our business is done. It was a double blow. The day had started with the promise of a striker, a winger and a right back, and ended with none of them. We were also stuck with a player who desperately did not want to be here. As I saw Palace fans rejoicing over social media, I just couldn't join them. The previous two years, I had been able to celebrate Wilf signing new deals, because it meant he was staying, and wanted to be here. On this day, the news meant he was staying, against his will. If his mindset was in doubt, the issue was confirmed when Roy said he had sent Wilf home, as his head wasn't right.
Two days later, we ironically played our home game against Everton. Wilf was given a great reception during the warm up, before the game, at half time, when he came on, and when he left the field. He also put in a lively display, a little reminder of why we love to watch him. The thing is, personally, I think he was very lucky to get that reaction. I did not boo him, as I said before, I never would. However, I did not clap him. His actions, or lack thereof over the summer, have done damage with me, and he will have to earn that applause back.
Here is where my opinion really kicks in. I kept seeing repeatedly, people saying that the club owes it to him to let him go. He has done so much for the club, he deserves the chance. He is the sole reason why we are still in the Premier League. I won't lie, it pissed me off, because it made it seem a one way relationship, and it very much wasn't. For a start, Wilf is ONE of the key reasons we have stayed up, but to put it all on him is disrespecting a lot of other people who played their parts. Secondly, yes, he has done a lot for this club, no doubt about it. Yes, he deserves a chance to step up a level. However, at the same time, he owes the club, as much as the club owes him. Palace gave him a place to learn and grow, in our academy. Palace then gave him his big break in the first team, where he became a regular. When Man Utd came calling, the club did not stand in the way of the opportunity, and sold him. Then, when his big move dream became a nightmare, Palace rescued him from it. We brought back a broken shell of the young man we had sold, and Palace nurtured him back to form with all the love and adulation we could give. Palace has given him the highest league platform in the world to showcase his talents and improve. Palace also gave him good contracts, including a year ago, when he was happy to sign a five year deal, as our highest earner. As his social media shows with his flash cars, Palace has very much provided Wilf with the chance to provide for his family. The club has done a hell of a lot for him, and all it has asked for in return, is to get his value in transfer fee.
Roy has said that Wilf's beef is with the board. All the talk is that he signed his contract last year, on the promise of getting sold when the bid comes in. That's great, but the fact is, a worthy bid has not come in. I never once saw any Palace fan say that the rumoured offers made, were good enough, especially when United would be owed a chunk of it. For me, had Wilf come out at the end of last season, and said publicly, that it was time to go, I would have understood it, respected it, and wished him all the best. Instead, those around have leaked rumours, talked garbage about childhood dreams and stirred the pot all summer. Then, when that hasn't worked, last minute he has slapped in a transfer request. I'm sorry, but none of that is acceptable. After all these years, after everything that he has been given, all the love and support and hero status, both the club and us fans deserved to be treated better than that.
Here is where my opinion get's even more controversial. The talk is that Wilf needs to step up a level. Personally, I think we ARE his level. Now, hear me out. Wilf is the star at Palace, no doubt about it. His status in our team, automatically leads to the conception that he is too good for us and needs to move on. The same was with Hazard at Chelsea. They are a big club, but he was their star and so naturally the world decided he had to move on to someone better. That is great and all, but that doesn't mean Hazard will be a big success at Madrid. Look at Coutinho, the stand out star at Liverpool in his time there, transferred to a Barcelona team packed with stars, and he has flopped. Wilf, for all his positives, still has flaws to his game, that I think would be exposed, and not tolerated at a bigger club. He is one of those players, who we all know, could do nothing for 80 minutes, and then suddenly produce the most devastating ten minutes that tears a team apart. Other games, he can cause problems for the entire 90 minutes, always a threat, always dangerous. Then, as we saw for a run of games last season, he can have matches where he does absolutely nothing. At Palace, we know this is the case, and we accept it. Because we love the man, and we love what he can do, we accept those times he doesn't deliver without issue. If he made a big money move to an Arsenal, or a Tottenham, he would not be given that luxury. They would expect him to deliver straight away, all the time. From the years of seeing him play, sadly I do not think he would be able to do that. If he wasn't ripping teams up all the time, or at least the majority of the time, then those fans would quickly lose patience with him. Yes, there is the argument that with better players around him, he would only improve, and that could very well be true. On the flipside though, having more quality around him, could expose him and his possible limits.
Wilf still struggles with petulance. It has always been an issue with his game, caused, I imagine, by getting fouled so many damn times. We have all seen it, and we have seen how costly it can be. Going back years, I remember going to Fratton Park for a League Cup tie against Portsmouth on Edgar Davids debut. We were 1-0 up and killing them, until Wilf showed his petulance and got himself sent off. We lost on penalties. I always felt that going to United and working under Sir Alex Ferguson, was what he needed to get rid of that element from his game, but Fergie left, and so it didn't happen. He has improved with it in recent seasons, no doubt, but last year we still saw its troubles. His petulance got him sent off at Southampton, and could quite easily have seen him see red on the last day of the season against Bournemouth. Again, this kind of thing would not be tolerated at a bigger club.
Wilf is at his best, running at back pedalling defenders. When he has them on the back foot, he has them in the palm of his hand, and normally leaves them for dust. When teams come to Selhurst and sit in with two solid banks of four, however, Wilf struggles, and becomes just as blunt as the rest of our attack. He has not developed that element to unlock a closed door, something we desperately need, and something that would be expected at a bigger club. Now, I am aware that it will seem that I am just picking holes, but that is not the case. I am simply highlighting that, because we love him, and because he is our talisman, we gladly ignore the elements to his game that I feel would hinder him at a different club. I get that he wants to try a higher level, I truly do, but sometimes, there is no harm with staying where you are. Karl Pilkington once said, he would rather live in the cave and look at the Palace, then live in the Palace and look at the cave. The same kind of applies here, where surely it is better to be the star at a smaller club, then one of the numbers, maybe even a bench warmer, at a bigger club?
To emphasise my belief, you have to look at the transfer saga this summer. As far as we know, none of the Champions League clubs wanted him. In fact, the only team in Europe, that did try for him, was Arsenal. Even then, the fact that they would not pay anywhere near his value, tells you how much they rate him. If they genuinely believed he is the top draw star that we all do, they would have paid the money to get him. Even money bags Everton, who have thrown cash all over the place, did not value him that highly. There is a rumour that Marco Silva wanted him, but the Everton board didn't, and so they made an offer to look interested, but made it low so it wouldn't happen. No idea how true that is.
What we do know, however, is that for the time being, Wilf is still here. I would love to rejoice at that, but I fear the negative effect it could have. Since the window has shut, there were immediately stories about him leaving in January. There has also been a story of Sakho holding a team meeting, telling Wilf to get on with it, something both Wilf and Andros Townsend have denied on Twitter. These things may not be true, but they are negative stories hanging around our club. Hell, at the Everton game, our fans were analysing his body language, to decide if he looked happy or not. This is the grief we are now stuck with. Every week, his performances are going to be picked apart by the media, as they try to drive a further wedge between him and the club. Fans, sadly, will start doing the same if things don't improve. If we end this month with no goals and no wins, people are going to get frustrated, and Wilf will be a target. If he isn't flying, tearing teams apart, some fans will start saying that he isn't bothering, that he is letting the transfer mess get to his head and affect his performance. It will only add more negativity, something we do not need. Plus, of course, January will now be dominated by this drama, as the summer was. We will have another month of supposed bids, and talk of him going. Not only will it get frustrating as hell, but it will affect our plans, in a window where we can already tell, that business desperately needs to be done(can anyone say right back and striker).
So, what is the solution? Well, if he is going to leave, then for me the perfect solution would be as follows. Chelsea's transfer ban gets lifted, and it gets announced that on January 1st, Wilf moves to Stamford Bridge, while we get cash and Batshuayi. That would be the perfect outcome, as he would get Champions League football, we would get money and the striker we need, and it would be done right at the start. That isn't going to happen though, so what else? Well, I think an open and honest sit down interview with Wilf, by Chris Grierson, is required. We need to know where he stands, not his agents, not the rumours, but the man himself. Would it achieve anything? I don't know. But, I would just love some honesty, from a man that we all hold so dearly. He may feel let down by the board, he may have a problem with them about the saga. From where I am sitting though, Wilf and his camp have disrespected the club and us fans this summer, and, for me, he needs to realise that and put it right. The fans did their part by showing him love at Everton, now it is over to him.