England will play Côte d’Ivoire in a friendly and will face a familiar opponent in Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha. Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate explains why he made the move.
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Southgate recalled organizing a hotel meeting with the crystal palace Talisman to convince him to commit to his international future England and not Ivory Coast, his native country.
But by then it was too late as Zaha had made up his mind and will face England for the first time on Tuesday night at Wembley.
It’s a tale of near misses, an underlying frustration and a bit of bitterness along the way, amid allegations that Zaha lacked the “enthusiasm” to play for England.
Zaha, 29, actually won two caps for England, both in friendlies, and made his debut against Sweden – in the Zlatan Tor match – under Roy Hodgson in November 2012 when he came on for Raheem Sterling and their international careers quickly went in opposite directions.
While Sterling was becoming a huge player for England, Zaha struggled to fit under different managers, went unpicked for four years and when Southgate took over in 2016 and met the Palace star, the winger’s mind was elsewhere.
Southgate said: “Wilf is a very good player and when we had him at U-21 he was in the middle of a very difficult period, both at Manchester United and then on loan cardiff.
“There was a time when we didn’t take him then. We had him after he had already made his senior debut so it’s more and more difficult for the players.”
“Roy had players who were way ahead of him and then we had four games as custodians where we were pretty comfortable with veteran players and didn’t want to bring in too many new players at that point.
“I remember going to a hotel, playing Palace away and meeting up with Wilf, but by that point he had made up his mind. I can understand it because he hadn’t played for four years.
“I remember being asked at the time and we were asked about a few different cases and I said players have to have a desire to play for England. That was adjusted a bit I would say so that there was a little vibe with Wilf and Steve Parish for a while.
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“That wasn’t a reference to Wilf – you couldn’t have a more passionate player, as anyone who follows Crystal Palace knows. For those who play for the U21s it’s always great to see them go on and have a great career.
“It is difficult to say what role he could have played with us. Raheem has been an important part of our team for a long time, Jesse Lingard had done a fabulous job and at the beginning we had Adam Lallana who was our player of the year for the first 18 months. He’s a talent, Wilf and a big part of Palace’s ability to stay in the league and make the progress they are making now.”
Zaha is a special player full of talent and skills. He was close to leaving Palace after admitting he wants to play Champions League Football. Its early move to Manchester United was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time when Sir Alex Ferguson left this summer.
Then came arsenal and everton but Zaha stayed where he was and it’s hard to imagine him enjoying his iconic status anywhere like the Palace. But it would be just as difficult to come into the English team now with so much broad and attacking talent. Southgate was asked if he thought Zaha would make the England line-up and as a former palace hero was diplomatic himself.
Southgate said: “I don’t know because he’s a good player who plays at a high level every week. He’s a slightly different player than the one we have. The difficulty for us was that we had such a short window of opportunity and because the U21s/ourself hadn’t been in touch for a while and Roy hadn’t picked him in that time either, he thought Ivory Coast was the way to go. I did totally understood.
“He had the opportunity to play in AFCON and everything else, so nobody had a crystal ball to know how that would have worked out.”
https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/wilfried-zaha-england-gareth-southgate-26566962 Gareth Southgate explains frustrating English chat with Wilfried Zaha after Man Utd spell