A Croydon councillor has called for Wilfried Zaha to “knuckle down” and honour his recently signed five-year contract with Crystal Palace.
As well as being a councillor for Fairfield ward, Chris Clark also happens to be a trades union workplace rights negotiator who sits on the London Transport division of the TSSA (Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association) executive.
So someone you might usually expect to take the part of the down-trodden worker, and not their multi-millionaire employers.
Eagles fan Clark expressed his no-nonsense point of view over the £80million-rated wantaway Palace star on national radio on Thursday, just after the summer transfer window shut closed, with Zaha trapped at Selhurst despite having put in a transfer request 24 hours earlier.
Sounding more like a hard-nosed, employer-side negotiator, union official Clark told BBC 5 Live: “If he wants to move to the big club then he’s going to have to knuckle down and perform for us.”
Clark had been rung up by “Radio Bloke” to provide the fans’ perspective on one of the biggest transfer stories of the summer, in which interest from Arsenal, Tottenham and, finally, Everton in signing Palace’s star player were either rejected or ignored.
It means that this afternoon Palace go into their opening game of the Premier League season at Selhurst against the Merseysiders, with Zaha clearly deeply unsettled after being denied the chance to move to what Clark called “a bigger club”. There were doubts expressed yesterday whether the player would start today’s match, or even be included in the squad.
In his pre-match press conference yesterday, Roy Hodgson, the Palace manager, expressed his own dissatisfaction with the situation.
“I can’t say to you that he is jubilant,” Hodgson said when asked about Zaha.
“I can’t say to you that he is delighted with the situation because it’s not the outcome he wanted. The outcome he wanted was to be sold and leave the club. We did not want that. We wanted him here. For me as a coach and the playing staff, we wanted the player rather than the money.”
“This is a disappointment he knows he has to get over. He has had a difference of opinion – ‘I want to leave and you’ve got to sell me’, and the club saying, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have to sell you and we aren’t going to until we get the price we think we need for you’.
“That has now passed and I’m expecting Wilf to go out and do on the training pitches and in matches what he has done during the two years that I have been here.”
Hodgson now has to try to motivate the best player in his squad to produce the kind of match-winning performances that can avert Palace suffering another mediocre start to the league season.
It is thought unlikely that experienced man-manager Hodgson will be telling Zaha to “knuckle down”, though.
Councillor Clark’s more demanding approach to the Zaha conundrum included telling his BBC radio audience that “we pay him very well”.
Clark attacked Zaha for daring to put in a transfer request just before the transfer window closed, even though the player’s agent had been signalling their desire to cash-in on a big-money move all summer.
Of course, bidding to play for a new “team” when still bound to another “club” is a situation which Clark ought to understand very well. Before the 2014 local elections, Clark actively sought selection by the Labour Party to stand as a candidate in Croydon, even though he was still a sitting councillor in another local authority, in Ashford, Kent. It wasn’t until 2018 that Clark, by then a devoted member of Momentum, was selected for, and won a council seat, in Fairfield ward.
Such fickleness, however, is not allowed when it comes to mere professional footballers, according to Clark.
On Thursday evening, adopting the role as the shop steward for all Eagles fans, Councillor Clark told 5 Live, “What you can’t do is put in a transfer request the day before the window closes and expect for us to just say ‘oh yeah, ok, our best player, who we rarely ever win a game when he is not playing, can go, when we have not got the time and the money to replace him’.”
It seemed to have escaped Clark’s memory that Palace have had £50million in the bank for the past six weeks, since they cashed in on another prized playing asset, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, with Manchester United.
When Zaha does leave for what Clark described as “a club where he can achieve his ambitions” (did he mean most Premier League clubs other than Palace?), the full-time union official and part-time football pundit said he would wish the player well.
Social media in the past couple of days has been full of Palace fanzines and supporters discussing the harsh realities and shortcomings of the club’s drab transfer business over the past three months, seeing them heading into the season without a recognised right-back or a proven goal-scorer.
Not so for Clark, though, as the union official has cast himself in the role of company man and cheerleader for Palace chairman Steve Parish.
“Great work @CEO4TAG,” Clark gushed on Twitter from deepest Kent yesterday. “Bring on the new season!”
For the council’s avid football fans, the emergence of Councillor Clark as a fully-fledged resident football pundit will come as something of a relief.
The former holder of that role in the Town Hall chamber, Tory councillor “Silent” Steve O’Connell, is soon to retire to Dorset, where doubtless he will be less available to accept freebie tickets in the directors’ box or provide countless amounts of old twaddle to fill the unread columns of the non-local local newspaper.
Clark appears very well qualified to quickly occupy that black hole of obsequiousness.
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