It was the side’s finest performance of the entire Premier League season, rattling five goals past the recent past champions. Even Christian Benteke – renamed for the day Pen-teke – managed to score at Selhurst Park. With two games of the league season left, the threat of relegation for Crystal Palace, the side which had lost their first seven games of the season when they failed to score a single goal, has finally passed.
More than anything else, Crystal Palace’s 5-0 demolition of Leicester on Saturday underlined the biggest challenge which the club, and its veteran manager, Roy Hodgson, now face: to keep Wilfried Zaha at the club. “The fact is, he is not going to stay because of my blue eyes,” said Hodgson, in the warm glow of success after the match.
“He is going to stay because he likes playing at Selhurst Park. He likes the club and he thinks this is the right place for him. I suppose a lot will depend on what offers come to the club.
“The only thing I can say with any certainty is that there is nobody at the club – in particular myself or my coaching staff or his fellow players – who wants him to leave.”
But Hodgson’s admiration for, and use, of Zaha contributed to the player leaving Selhurst Park once before.
It was Hodgson who called up Zaha to the England squad in 2012, which increased the player’s profile and value, leading to his £10million transfer to Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing at Old Trafford.
But after Zaha’s second cap, Hodgson never picked him again for England, and at United, he didn’t fit into the plans of Ferguson’s successors as manager. The homecoming to south London, and gradual maturing over the past three seasons has led to the full blossoming, at age 25, under Hodgson this year.
Palace are far from a one-player team. But the difference in results when Zaha is, or is not, playing, suggests otherwise. His influence is profound.
At 25, Zaha is at the peak of his powers. What would be his reaction if he got a call from Pep Guardiola and the chance of a weekly wage packet of £150,000, maybe more, to join the champions at the Etihad? With international calibre wing-backs going for £50million in these days of football hyper-inflation, Palace could command any price they liked for such a gifted attacking player. And the club has a new stand to pay for.
As Hodgson so sagely put it: “I suppose a lot will depend on what offers come to the club.”
But a lovely new £100million stand won’t seem half as lovely without Zaha gracing the park in front of it.
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