If he is to get his way this summer then Wilfried Zaha will say goodbye to Crystal Palace for a second time.
Since permanently returning in 2015 from an ill-fated spell at Manchester United (2013-15) the 26-year-old Ivorian winger has transformed into arguably the best footballer outside the Premier League’s ‘top six’ clubs.
The combination of Zaha’s ambition to play Champions League football and Palace certain to continue looking from the outside in – and not doing a Leicester City anytime soon – has made this moment inevitable.
The Eagles understandably don’t want to lose their homegrown talisman, hence their eye-watering valuation, but there’s no stopping him chasing his dreams. So, expect a compromise.
One thing is for certain: he’s not lacking in suitors. Across the last several transfer windows, his name has been associated with a who’s who of Premier League and European giants.
Below are some of the main contenders for Zaha’s signature, as well as some potential wildcards in what is sure to be one of the transfer sagas of the summer.
Dream: Paris Saint-Germain or Arsenal
Across his last two Premier League seasons, Zaha registered 19 goals and created a further 15 for his teammates – more direct goal contributions than any other Palace player during that time. A modest return, but you have to remember he’s been playing for a side that rarely dominates the opposition and with all due respect, those around him are not exactly world-beaters.
So, with time being of the essence, you can understand why he’s determined to move on up. Every player desires Champions League football and very few can offer Zaha that opportunity. Paris Saint-Germain, who have emerged as a shock candidate to sign him, is such an institution and they do offer the dream of sharing a pitch with Kylian Mbappé and Neymar.
However, as magical that prospect is, the reality seems otherwise. Chances are Zaha will remain in the Premier League which reduces his options to six teams. Growing up in south London, he was an avid fan of Arsenal – who can secure Champions League football by winning the Europa League final at Chelsea’s expense. Maybe he could follow the path of a legendary Gunner striker Ian Wright by moving from Selhurst Park to Islington. Unai Emery, no matter what happens in Baku, will be seeking to strengthen his squad. Zaha’s capability of playing across the forward line means he will not struggle for appearances.
Squawka Suggest: Arsenal
Realistic: Crystal Palace or Tottenham Hotspur
Zaha’s present deal with Palace, which he signed last August, expires in June 2023 and the powers that be at Selhurst Park, who have subsequently placed a £100m, are determined for him not to leave in the forthcoming months. So far, according to reports, this price tag has slowly done the job by putting off several of his potential new employers.
So, when the new season begins, there’s a realistic chance he will remain a Palace footballer. Not that he will be complaining, given his love for the club and their boisterous supporters, but you can understand if there’s a tinge of disappointment.
Given his service – helping to maintain Palace’s top-flight status – the likelihood is a compromise between player and club will be met. But this depends on there being interest from elsewhere. The Eagles, as is their right, will not let him go on the cheap. It’s hard to quantify his importance to manager Roy Hodgson who recently converted him into a centre-forward.
These match-winning performances have attracted Champions League finalists Tottenham Hotspur who this summer, unlike the last, will be splashing the cash on signings. He’ll offer Mauricio Pochettino attacking depth, but chairman Daniel Levy, a tough negotiator, is unlikely to pay over the odds.
Squawka Suggest: Crystal Palace
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Wildcard: Manchester United or Chelsea
Zaha has walked this path before. Back in January 2013, as an exciting 20-year-old prospect, he became Sir Alex Ferguson’s final signing as Manchester United manager. He never, though, got to play under the legendary Scot and instead played sporadically under his successor, David Moyes – a total of four times accumulating 167 minutes. It’s fair to say the Abidjan-born forward is a completely different player from that wide-eyed kid who rocked up at Old Trafford all those years ago. He’s also got something left to prove and United, again re-building now under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, could be inclined to return.
But what if he doesn’t want a second spell? Again, it reduces his options. Chelsea, though, could be a glamorous destination. However, that all depends on their legal status, currently they are serving a transfer ban issued by Fifa, but if the Blues manage to overturn or delay it, then Zaha becomes an interesting prospective acquisition.
Eden Hazard, their MVP for the last few years, is heavily tipped to leave and though Christian Pulisic has signed, they both can play together, especially with Callum Hudson-Odoi out for a while. But it’s that uncertainty over Stamford Bridge pushing towards taking care of unfinished business in Manchester.
Squawka Suggest: Manchester United