Zaha often looked too good for Palace but could he now sign new deal as they threaten to reach his level under Vieira?
10th November 2021

WILFRIED ZAHA turned 29 on Wednesday looking more content with life at Crystal Palace than he has in a long time.

But with only 19 months left on his Eagles contract, and a recent change in agent, it is an intriguing situation as to what the club legend will do next.


Does he once again look to leave Selhurst Park, as he has done on a few occasions in the last few years?

Or will he commit to spearheading this exciting, new era under Patrick Vieira which has started so promisingly by signing a new deal?

Zaha’s future became a permanent subject of conversation throughout Roy Hodgson’s tenure whenever the transfer window was open.

Unai Emery wanted him at Arsenal back in 2019 but got Nicolas Pepe instead, while Everton failed in a bid to get him later that summer as Zaha even put in a transfer request.

The former England international stayed put then, despite clearly wanting to go.

Now he could remain at the club because he is genuinely excited about the direction in which the club is heading.

Like any top, attacking player, Zaha has always relished being the main man in the team.

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But at the same time, he has been crying out for more signings in the last few years to ease his burden.

Palace have responded brilliantly to that challenge this summer with their excellent recruitment of the likes of Odsonne Edouard, Conor Gallagher and Michael Olise.

Zaha hailed the latter pair after they combined to score a fantastic, late goal on the counter-attack in the shock 2-0 win at Manchester City last month.

The Ivory Coast star, who had scored an early opener, said: “(Gallagher’s) energy is unreal.

“It helps so much having someone that goes back and helps us going forward as well.

“(Olise) is technically ridiculous. I know when he gets the ball, I’ve just got to get into space knowing he’ll find me.

“That makes a massive difference, knowing that there are players like that that we can bring on. It just shows the direction that the club is going in.”

Zaha is now a crucial part of the jigsaw, rather than essentially being the whole jigsaw.

He has a great relationship with Hodgson and massive respect for the former England boss during their four years working together.

But, being a huge football fan, the admiration he has for Vieira is on another level for what the Frenchman achieved in his playing career.

Zaha is loving life under the ex-Arsenal captain and his particular philosophy.

While the more pragmatic Hodgson would focus more on the opposition, Vieira is more about what Palace can do to hurt the opposition.

That message remained consistent even in the week leading up to the City game and is evident from the Eagles’ easier-on-the-eye style of play.

Vieira has added a day of training to the weekly schedule, even if that day is more about recovery, and all the players have bought into it.

Zaha has been redeployed back in his more position off the left rather than centre-forward as he played under Hodgson last season – though he did play up the middle against City.

And what has been the most notable difference in his game is his work-rate has gone through the roof.

Statistics in September showed no forward in the league made more pressures – ie closing the opposition down – than Zaha’s average of 20 per 90 minutes.

For many years, it has looked as if Zaha has carried the club on his back. Now they are threatening to reach his level after investment in the squad, new academy and new approach.

That energy has been key to implementing Vieira’s counter-pressing game where Palace aim to have more control in the final third, but is dependent on the first man – usually Zaha – working their socks off to press.

Despite being a year off his 30s, and having been a top Premier League player for more than half a decade, Vieira thinks Zaha can get even better.

The Eagles boss said last week: “I strongly believe that he can go to a different level. I think he can score more goals, he can make more assists, he can be more decisive. I guarantee he can do it.”

With that in mind, Palace will be very keen to tie their talisman down to a new contract.

After more than 400 club appearances and 51 Premier League goals, Zaha’s legendary status is already ensured alongside the likes of Ian Wright and Mark Bright.

For many years, it has looked as if Zaha has been too good for Palace and he has been carrying the club on his back.

Now they are threatening to reach his level after all the investment in the squad, the new academy and progressive, new approach under Vieira.

Zaha seems happy, at last.

Palace fans will be praying it is enough to keep him for the rest of his career.

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