It’s common for Wilfried Zaha to inject a bit of excitement into the nation’s living rooms during the latter stages of Match of the Day. His lightning pace and quick feet have frequently transformed dragging, mid-table stalemates into spectacles that are not to be missed. The Crystal Palace winger is carrying bags of talent and, as a result, there are not many Premier League clubs that would not benefit from his services.
The 25-year old made a bold statement last year when he announced his plans to switch his international allegiance to the Ivory Coast instead of England – after growing increasingly frustrated at being repeatedly left out of the Three Lions’ plans. Zaha has debuted strongly for the Elephants, starting each of their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations games, whilst also bagging two goals in his eight caps to date.
The former Manchester United man has recently been frequenting the back-page headlines due to an explosive post-match interview with BBC Sport last month. Following Crystal Palace’s 1-0 triumph over Huddersfield Town at the John Smith’s Stadium, Zaha expressed his exasperation to the media regarding some of the challenges he had received in the game.
The first half of the match saw Mathias Jorgensen bring the Ivorian down with a hard tackle that left him writhing in pain – prompting calls for a red card to be issued by referee Graham Scott from the rest of the Eagle’s contingent. Jorgensen only received a booking for the foul and Zaha’s anger at the decision was demonstrated minutes later when he too was put in the book for leaving a late foot in on Terrier’s fullback Florent Hadergjonaj. Zaha’s scathing rant to reporters after the final whistle struck controversy when the player announced; ‘’I feel like I’d have to get my leg broken for anyone to get a card.’’
This outburst is only the latest in a string of incidents where Zaha has claimed he feels ‘targeted’ by his opposition, and ‘singled-out’ by referees not choosing to discipline players for card-worthy offences against him.
A look at the stats
A quick look at the statistics from the last few Premier League seasons reveals the self-proclaimed conspiracy Zaha alleges to be a victim of doesn’t bare much factual evidence, and his ‘lack of protection’ claims are not based on any real substance.
In football, it is obvious that attacking players operating in and around the final third are going to be subjected to more fouls than their peers in deeper roles. Since 2013, the most fouled players in the English top flight are Eden Hazard – 470 fouls won, Zaha – 359 fouls won, and Raheem Sterling – 331 fouls won. In the same time period, it is no coincidence that the three players who have attempted the most dribbles in the league are the same; Hazard – 1105, Zaha – 1099, and sterling – 778.
Eden Hazard tops the tables in both regards, having been fouled 111 times more than his next closest league counterpart in the last five years. Interestingly, the Belgian wide man has also rarely, if ever, publicly criticized match officials or claimed he is a specific target, even though he has far more of a case to do so than Zaha. Despite being kicked to bits week in and week out, Hazard has proved himself to be leaps and bounds ahead of the Ivorian in terms of both skill and consistency.
Wilfried Zaha and Crystal Palace currently reside in 14th place and will struggle to achieve anything more than avoiding a relegation battle this year.
The bottom line is that in the Premier League, if you’ve got pace and quick feet, opposition players are going to take a swipe at you. In some instances, it may even be the only way a defender can prevent the likes of Zaha, Hazard, Sterling, and Salah going through on goal, and so picking up a yellow card isn’t seen as too big a sacrifice.
If Wilfried Zaha wants to continue to develop into a top footballer, then he needs to change his attitude. Moaning and pointing fingers week in and week out are not the type of qualities that will make the English FA regret losing his services. He needs to react to the situation in a different way, and that way is to focus on football, and let his talent do the talking.