Yesterday afternoon, Wilfried Zaha took to Instagram to speak about the racist abuse and death threats he’s received in the aftermath of Sunday’s game against Arsenal. Whatever your thoughts on the 25-year-old, this proves that the mob mentality which now surrounds him has gone too far.
Shortly after Sunday afternoon’s game with the in-form Gunners finished, Granit Xhaka (the man who gave away the penalty in question) alongside his manager Unai Emery publicly admitted that Martin Atkinson was right to point to the spot; not that it’s stopped people in their thousands, both of an Arsenal and neutral persuasion from giving Zaha dog’s abuse on social media.
There where three angles of the penalty indecent circulating online following the match, two of which showed the clear contact made on Zaha by the Swiss international. One (taken from behind) makes it look as though Wilfried has hurdled Xhaka and taken a tumble and surprise, surprise, that’s the footage the angry mob have chosen to focus on. The bandwagon of anger which now surrounds the Palace man seems to ignore all logical arguments, casting aside the voices of experienced ex-pros and journalists who agree it was a foul, just so they can spew out bile towards him behind anonymous Twitter and Instagram handles.
For the most part, Zaha has learnt to live with and often thrive as a direct result of the digs he receives online but yesterday’s developments highlight the dangerous direction in which we’re heading. Notice that you’ve heard next to nothing about the blatant dives from Fulham’s Aboubakar Kamara and Tottenham’s Lucas Moura during the same round of Premier League fixtures, whilst Zaha’s threats emerge after a genuine foul in a game when Arsenal’s second goal came courtesy of a blatant handball from Alexandre Lacazette.
Zaha was fouled on seven separate occasions against Arsenal, the most of any Premier League player in a single game this season and yet, here we are some 72 hours later discussing abuse he’s been sent as a direct result of one of those blatant fouls.
Fans from other clubs have long had a bee in their bonnet over Zaha; almost certainly as a consequence of him embarrassing their own defenders on numerous occasions but the things he’s been subjected to over the last couple of days cross a line that shouldn’t even be thought about in this day and age.
Double-page spreads in which Chris Sutton labels him “the worst diver of the season”, countless opinion pieces in national newspapers about him “turning his back on England” to play for the country of his and his parents’ birth, lies about his bad attitude, tall tales about David Moyes’ daughter, smear pieces about his brother and many hours of television coverage in which his conduct and playing style have been questioned brought us to this point. It may not seem like much to those on the outside but for Zaha and those who care about him, this ongoing problem feels like death by 1,000 cuts.
Words are constantly put in the winger’s mouth, whilst rumours and speculation are given the oxygen necessary to turn them into fact in the minds of the masses. Yes, the people sending the racist abuse and death threats are idiots but they are doing so because of a long-running negative narrative adopted by the written, audible and visual press which has turned Zaha from a footballer into a public punching bag with no real justification.
It needs to stop.