With the rumours surfacing about Borussia Dortmund being interested in a transfer for Wilfried Zaha in the summer, is it time to contemplate a Palace squad without him in it?
Every transfer window there is at least one rumour involving Wilf (and normally Spurs) leaving us. Every season he seems to get a new contract and lo and behold, Wilf is going nowhere. At the end of the latest round of this merry go round last summer, I did wonder whether this might be the make or break season for Wilf and Palace. He is clearly our most talented player and as newspapers love to say our “talisman”. There is no doubt that he has the talent to play for a much bigger club and I don’t think any Palace supporter would begrudge Wilf taking the opportunity to play at the top level.
At the end of last season we really looked like if we pushed on during this season, we had at least the possibility of getting into a Europa League place. If that happened, I could see Wilf staying with us and in my fantasy world getting the international recognition his talent deserves as we stormed the Europa League (or at least got to the group stages!).
Although it must still be technically possible for us to get a top ten finish, if not quite the Europa League places, even the most optimistic Palace supporter cannot be seriously contemplating a European tour next season. Hopefully we will avoid the relegation terrors of last season (and every season before since we have been in the Premier League) but as we currently sit a mighty three points clear, even that is a touch optimistic.
Assuming things don’t change that much for the rest of the season our aspiration will be mid-table mediocrity without much more than that. Given the potential cost of the new Main Stand and the restraints of Financial Fair Play I cannot see a short term future for Palace with billions being spent on building a top six Premier League club.
Wilf is currently in his prime as a winger; does he really want to spend every season hoping for mid-table mediocrity but more likely looking over his shoulder counting the points we are clear of the relegation zone? This may be a pessimistic way to look at things but after six years in the Premier League it does feel somewhat realistic. Wilf has provided us with more quality and excitement (and vital goals and penalties) than any would have dreamed of when he made his first team debut as a substitute against Cardiff City towards the end of the 2009-2010 season. Having given his heart and soul to Palace for all those years, he deserves a chance to see what he could do at the highest level.
The worry is whether we could survive in the Premier League without him for very long. One thinks back to when Ian Wright left Palace and the precedents are not good. English football has moved on a huge amount in the decades since Ian Wright’s departure and Palace is a much bigger club financially than it was then – as is every other Premier League club. Assuming we would receive the rumoured £50-60 million for Zaha, that could buy a number of high quality players, even at today’s inflated prices.
The risk of course is the players coming in would not prove to be adequate replacements; one only has to look at Spurs’ recruitment after selling Gareth Bale to see what could go wrong. In addition, Wilf has been so critical to our success that we would have to find different ways to win matches if we were to replace the points that Wilf has provided both directly and indirectly over the years. If Roy Hodgson remains our manager next season I would have some confidence that we could find a way to win regularly enough to stay up without Wilf – we have done it twice this season after all!
If, however, we end up with a significant turnover in both playing and management personnel next season, I would be more nervous about our survival chances. Not that I am not nervous every season!
The reality is we cannot rely on Wilf forever and at some point we have to take the risk of trying to survive in the Premier League without him. We can either wait until age catches up with him (or heaven forbid, the years of physical abuse on the pitch catches up with him), or we give him the opportunity before his talents fade to show what he can do, outside of our little corner of South London.
With £50-60 million in the bank and the ability to make sure he will not be playing against us in the Premier League, that is a deal (with a heavy heart and lingering fear of what the consequences might be for us) that I think we should take, if of course the circumstances arise.