The £35m talent who Crystal Palace must fight tooth and nail to keep this summer after Wilf Zaha exit
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Wilf’s gone. Like, actually gone. Some people have been expecting this kind of faux revelation for quite a while now, to be fair, but just as Crystal Palace were seemingly beginning to relax into the notion that their talisman might unexpectedly stay put this summer, he’s upped sticks and headed to Turkey quicker than you can say ‘Bernard Matthews’.
On Saturday, Wilfried Zaha was a Crystal Palace player. By Sunday, he was not. The expectation now is that he will arrive in Istanbul on Monday and be unveiled as a member of Galatasaray’s squad shortly thereafter. The Guardian report that a three-year contract has already been agreed, and that he has rebuffed apparent interest from Lazio, Fenerbahce, and Al-Nassr - plus a £200,000-a-week wage packet at Selhurst Park - to move to the banks of the Bosphorus.
Writing on Instagram, the departing forward said: ‘I’ve been wearing the Palace shirt since I was 8 years old, it’s literally been my second skin and I always gave EVERYTHING when I wore it. You have all seen me angry and frustrated, but you’ve also seen my hunger and passion and the joy that I take from winning, and I hope that is the memory that lives on in the minds of Palace fans.
‘I grew up two roads away from the bright lights and loud crowds of Selhurst Park, having no idea that I would be at the centre of it all one day, and have the amazing journey I’ve had with this amazing club. So I would say to my 8 year old self, dream BIG and only you can kill your dream.
‘I want to thank Steve Parish, all of my teammates, coaches and the entire Palace fanbase for always believing in me and encouraging me to get to where I am today. I have been blessed to play in front of you and call you family from the day you accepted me. From the bottom of my heart, I’m forever grateful. Wilf.’
Eternal gratitude, sincere as it may be, will do little to plug the gaping chasm in Palace’s attack that Zaha’s exit wrenches open, however. Quite how the Eagles respond to the sudden loss of their most threatening asset remains to be seen, but this has the distinct feeling of an iconic television series bidding farewell to its central protagonist in a latter season. There is a drab emptiness to it all, a kind of muted acceptance that whatever comes next probably won’t be as good.
Whatever the outcome, though, what they absolutely cannot afford to do is lose another of their preeminent creative forces. It is testament to the standard of Palace’s recent recruitment that so many of their best young players are regularly linked with lucrative transfers, but at a certain point, some players have to be retained for reasons of self-preservation; players like Michael Olise.
According to French outlet RMC, free-spending, free-wheeling (and up until recently, free-falling) Chelsea have submitted a bid of around £39 million for the winger. Such a development could be problematic for two reasons. Firstly, it is understood that Olise has a release clause of £35 million written into his contract in South London. Secondly, and perhaps more worrying still, it is suggested that the player himself has been ‘seduced’ by Todd Boehly’s project at Stamford Bridge. Presumably he is also the sort of person who gets a sick thrill out of seeing under-prepared amateur architects run over budget and past their anticipated completion date on Grand Designs too.
To worsen matters further, various other reports have credited treble-winners Manchester City with an interest in the 21-year-old, and all the harbingers imply much gloom in Palace’s immediate future.
But the Eagles must do their utmost to resist. To lose Zaha is bad enough, but to lose Olise in the same summer would be to inflict the kind of wound that has, on occasion, caused clubs of their ilk to bleed out in a gurgling, uninspired anguish.
Last season, Olise registered 11 Premier League assists, but that figure only really tells a fraction of the story. Nobody else in Palace’s squad recorded more key passes per 90 minutes than the precocious Frenchman, and he also established himself in the top three for both shots taken and successful dribbles completed. There is a reason why, according to the statisticians at Whoscored, only Eberechi Eze earned a higher average match rating over the course of the campaign. He is, in short, vital.
And there are some glimmering hints that all is not lost just yet. The general consensus is that Palace are in no mood to acquiesce to negotiations, and that they are doing all they can to persuade Olise that his future, for the time being at least, should lie at Selhurst Park.
Then again, the same could have been said of Zaha as recently as Saturday evening, and if the claims of a release clause in Olise’s contract are founded in truth, then the matter may well be forcefully ripped from their hands.
Regardless, Palace have to fight tooth and nail to ensure that another of their prized attacking assets doesn’t waltz out of the door this summer. If nothing else, they seem to recognise that. Whether they can do anything to prevent it happening, however, only time will tell.