Over the years, I’ve spent many an hour defending Wilfried Zaha against accusations of diving and for all the back-and-forth arguments with opposition fans, it continues to be a dig which is aimed at him week after week. Thankfully, this piece from The Guardian’s Paul Doyle has crystallised the stupidity of the debate perfectly.
As sad as it is to admit, the decision to boo Zaha’s every touch has almost become a rite of passage for fans of the teams we face each week. So effective have the media been in tarnishing his reputation, that supporters stream into grounds across the country and immediately view the 26-year-old as a pantomime villain wheeled out to be the object of derision and abuse, regardless of whether or not he’s actually done anything wrong.
The above article from Doyle does a fantastic job of highlighting the idiocy of this approach, drawing reference to the fact that, against Wolves only recently, the home fans became so fixated with howling abuse at Zaha’s every movement that they let a blatant act of simulation from Wilf’s teammate James McArthur pass without a whimper. It’s a curious and rather amusing approach when you boil it all down but at its core, you do have to wonder what is motivating thousands of people to despise a footballer on sight.
I have to admit, I’ve rarely if ever seen Paul Doyle comment on Crystal Palace in print but he does so here before a game in which Zaha can be sure of stick from the fans situated in the away end of Selhurst Park. Watford’s fan-base have been utterly obsessed with the Eagles’ academy graduate from the moment he was hacked for the most stonewall penalty you’ll ever see in the play-off final of 2013. Sensible folk would hold their hands up, admit error on the part of their defender and move on from what is no doubt a painful memory but not the Hornets, who have developed a genuinely odd feeling of hatred towards the Ivory Coast international.
With Étienne Capoue having got away with an absolute shocker of a tackle on Zaha at the start of this season and Watford captain Troy Deeney later publicly admitting that he and his teammates took it in turns to kick Wilf, the return encounter promises to be a tasty affair.
Sooner or later, this targeting of Zaha is going to result in a truly horrific injury; at which point, the idiots who bleat on about the wide-man not needing protection will be left expressing both mock outrage and sympathy for him, blissfully ignoring the fact that their apathy played a role in Wilfried being sidelined. I just hope he turns on the style and wedges himself further into the heads of those who so badly want him to fail on Saturday, he’s capable of pulling their figurative pants down when he’s on his game and he knows that better than anyone.