It’s not often you see a piece in the British press patting Wilfried Zaha on the back for his decision to represent the Ivory Coast instead of England; leaving me feeling compelled to bring this particular article to your attention on this fine Friday morning.
To many casual observers, the assumption that Zaha “turned his back on the Three Lions” has become a natural response but I must credit GQ magazine and writer Lee Stobbs for looking beyond the stereotype and exploring the true reasons why the Palace academy graduate finally walked away from England to play for the country of his birth in November of 2016.
Zaha’s story, which I have gone over plenty of times myself, is one of missed opportunity on the part of the FA. Having been given his debut as an 83rd minute substitute in a friendly against Sweden back in 2012, the winger waited four long years for another phone call, before rightly paying attention to the officials from the Ivory Coast, who were keen to build the side around him.
It’s easy to forget now but the then new England gaffer Gareth Southgate made the startling accusation that Zaha didn’t have the “inherent desire” necessary to play for the Three Lions; a comment which only served to fuel an already widespread campaign to question the 25-year-old’s ambition and technical quality.
With the World Cup in Russia now tantalisingly close, it’s fair to say that Zaha would be one of the first names penciled in for a seat on the plane, were he available for selection, prompting the writer of the above piece to question how and why the FA have allowed such a brilliantly talented footballer to slip between their fingers, having had 23 years in which to make him an essential part of the national side.