It’s only now, some eight years after Wilfried Zaha first burst onto the scene at Crystal Palace, that neutrals are starting to take him seriously. For those of us who’ve watched him terrorising defenders from week to week, the ignorance that surrounds him has become something of a running joke but for sports writer Sam Pilger, the fact that he isn’t on the plane to Russia with Gareth Southgate and co. is a sign of failure on a national scale.
Having been blanked for four years by those who control the England squad selections, Wilfried understandably grew tired of waiting and gave in to the repeated pleas of the Ivory Coast, finally agreeing to represent the nation of his birth in November of 2016.
It was a story which provoked a strangely angry backlash from some sections of the sporting press, helped along by new England boss Gareth Southgate, who accused the winger of lacking the necessary “passion” to pull on the Three Lions shirt. Quite why more wasn’t done to convince Wilfried of England’s faith in him, either through phone calls, face-to-face meetings or heaven forbid, international call-ups is anyone’s guess but in the goldfish bowl environment of the national team, it was all too easy to blame the player himself rather than those who had the power to select him.
Thankfully, writers like Sam Pilger are still angry at the error, not least because the 25-year-old would offer the current crop something entirely different ahead of the upcoming World Cup campaign. Yes, this group are young, tightly bonded and keen to write a new chapter in the country’s footballing history after the horror exit at the hands of Iceland two years ago but you’d be incredibly blinkered to believe that Zaha’s inclusion within the 23-man squad wouldn’t enhance our chances of success against the best the world has to offer.
It warms my heart to see non-Palace fans writing with such passion about the mistake that was made in ignoring the Palace academy graduate. Whilst no one can turn back the clock, it’s good to know that the loss of Wilfried Zaha is being held up as an example of the negligence by those pulling the strings at our nation’s footballing headquarters.