For Crystal Palace fans, that World Cup euphoria could be short-lived, as the optimistic It’s Coming Home theme of the past four weeks has segued into a version of the old Clash number: Should He Stay Or Should He Go? as transfer speculation mounts over Wilfried Zaha.
Zaha is the undisputed star of Selhurst Park, with a host of clubs courting the skilful winger’s signature in what could be a club record £70million summer deal.
And comments by Palace manager Roy Hodgson ahead of tonight’s pre-season tour friendly against Halmsteds in Sweden have done little to calm the nerves of Eagles fans anxious to keep Zaha in south London.
Zaha has been linked with Everton, Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, with some speculation from Germany that he is missing tonight’s Palace game in order to fly to Germany for a medical and to finalise details (the club’s explanation for Zaha’s absence was “family reasons”).
The perils of Photoshop, eh: some wags even mocked up a Zaha shirt in Borussia colours.
What’s not helped the mood have been some of Hodgson’s comments while on the club’s Scandinavian tour.
On Friday, he dismissed the Zaha transfer speculation, saying, “What people seem to forget with Wilf is he has got a four-year contract.
“There is speculation every year around Messi and Ronaldo, too.
“He is our player for the next four years and the club has got no interest or desire to sell him.”
Which is not the same as saying that Palace won’t sell Zaha.
Hodgson also said this: “We haven’t been able to strengthen as much as we would have liked and the finances are such that we haven’t really got a lot of money to spend on players.
“The chairman has made it clear to me that certainly this next season it is all about survival again.”
Now while Hodgson’s Zaha comments and the “survival” quote are not necessarily mutually exclusive, in the context of a juicy £70million offer for one player, the cash could be very tempting for the club, and its manager.
For Hodgson, brought back from retirement last year to save the club from Premier League relegation, the cupboard appears to be bare. Previous managers Pardew, Allardyce and de Boer, while hardly enjoying the biggest of transfer budgets, appear to have blown what they had. And the club has a shiny new £100million stand to pay for, too, remember.
Hodgson has a couple of gaping holes in his squad of last season to plug: Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Timothy Fosu-Mensah were successes at Selhurst, so much so in the case of Loftus-Cheek that the muscular midfielder, unappreciated by Chelsea, still ended up being a key member of Gareth Southgate’s England team at the World Cup in Russia thanks to his performances for Palace.
Hodgson’s best hope might be if he can “borrow” Loftus-Cheek for another season, though the Palace boss’s frankness on the matter might be alarming for some. Asked if RLC might be loaned again, Hodgson said, “I have no idea.”
The loan market, Hodgson said, “is absolutely quiet, or silent basically”.
And Palace fans are sounding pessimistic about the prospects of keeping 25-year-old Zaha at the club, too.
Celebrity fan Martyn Rooney, the Croydon Harrier who has twice won the European 400metres title for Britain, summed up the feelings of many on Twitter tonight.
“If we lose Zaha and it’s anything less than £70m,” Rooney wrote, “we’ve been robbed.”
Palace fans, of course, have been here before. Zaha’s unhappy spell at Manchester United saw him return to Palace in 2014 where he rediscovered his joy for football, and his electric form. Within two years, though, he was submitting a transfer request in the knowledge that Spurs had £15million set aside for the still developing talent.
That Zaha’s talent has blossomed – being the difference in the past two seasons between Palace staying up and the oblivion of relegation – explains how his value has soared nearly five-fold in the meantime.
The frustrations facing Hodgson, though, were broadly expressed to a press conference in Sweden before the weekend.
When dismissing the reports of bids for Zaha, Hodgson also addressed similar reports about Andros Townsend, which the sage old manager blames mainly on players’ agents eager to drive up the transfer values of their clients.
Hodgson said, “There can be as much speculation as you like… Townsend is in a similar situation – he has got three years on his contract, and we have no interest at all in selling Andros Townsend.
“I am not surprised that other clubs would be interested, and there are players at other clubs who aren’t for sale that I wouldn’t mind. But we are not selling players.
“We are not a ‘selling club’ at the moment, far from it. We are working very hard to keep the players we have got, and players of big importance, and Zaha and Townsend are right up there as players we want to keep.
“And speculation can continue, the fun can continue if people want to read it, but I have no interest in it.
“Every day I am told we are being associated with this player or that, or one of our players is being associated with someone else, but I always say the same.
“I know if there are any players we are interested in, I will know that, and I don’t need to see it every day and quash speculation about signing X, Y or Z, or that Zaha and Townsend are about to leave, I don’t need to do that.
“I know the situation and it is part of the fun of your job,” he told the mainly Scandinavian journalists, “and as you know better than me, most of it comes from players’ agents.”
That said, some of Hodgson’s other remarks suggested that he has little scope. The Swedish journalists were keen to discover whether, ahead of the game with one of Hodgson’s former clubs, the Palace boss might have some transfer targets of his own on their patch.
But while Hodgson spoke of Palace’s “very organised and expansive scouting network” and that his scouts “know the players that are playing over here and anyone that is good and deserves to be recognised, we will know about them”, he was quick to dampen down even the outside possibility of bringing any up-and-coming Swede to south London.
“The fact is we aren’t actively scouting anywhere at the moment and our major concern is to keep hold of the players that we have, and hopefully sign some others,” Hodgson said.
“We aren’t in that situation that many other Premier League clubs are where they have a pot of gold that they can throw around and buy players; we are not in that situation.
“Anyone we bring in will be carefully chosen and will fit within our budgetary restrictions, which we most definitely have. Because although the club has spent a lot of money in transfers, we are still paying for a lot of those transfers going into the next season, and unfortunately it has taken a large chunk that would have been available for us.”
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