My head was all over the place, says Zaha

Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha says his head ‘was all over the place’ because of transfer speculation at the beginning of the season.

Arsenal and Everton had bids rejected by Palace, who valued the 26-year-old at around £80m, although Eagles boss Roy Hodgson said Zaha wanted to leave. The Ivorian has since played in all of his club’s Premier League matches in 2019-20, with Palace in sixth place.

“I had to put my head down and play my football,” said Zaha. “I would have been hindering my own progress by moaning and not wanting to perform properly. I have too much respect for my manager, the fans and my team-mates to treat them that way. It was a thing where ‘OK, this hasn’t happened but I’ve got to get on with it’.

“I’ve got to prove every time that I’m the top player I claim to be so I had to get over that quickly. Obviously my head was a bit all over the place at the beginning of the season but I had to nail down and just get on with it because the team deserved that.”

Zaha came through the ranks at Selhurst Park before joining Manchester United for £15m in 2013, but returned to Palace less than two years later after failing to start a Premier League game during his time at Old Trafford.

Despite the interest from Arsenal and Everton, Zaha says he is now focused on helping the Eagles.

“I’m seeing how it goes. I’m a Crystal Palace player and I’m just trying to perform to the best of my ability for my club,” he added. “I’m not thinking about anything else and just taking each day as it comes. The season’s gone well so far. We’ve got a lot more in us and I’m happy with the squad and everyone’s happy with where we are right now.”

“All I can do is perform on the pitch. I’m trying to be a consistent performer on the pitch week in, week out. Last season I set myself a target of 10 goals and managed to get 10, so I was happy. Hopefully I can reach my goals again — that’s all that’s on my mind.”

Zaha made his first international appearance for the Ivory Coast in January 2017

Earlier this week, Zaha won an award in the Philanthropic Endeavour category in the Best of Africa Awards for his charity work in the Ivory Coast, which includes giving 10% of his wages to charitable causes.

“I’m very family orientated; I’ve got a big family and I feel that unity is a big thing so I could use my platform to help people back home,” Zaha said. “I’ve given 10% of my wages, from my first wage, back home to anyone that doesn’t have anything, anyone less fortunate, the mothers who are just by themselves. I help my sister’s orphanage, called Tamara’s Hope, so I take care of it basically.”

“So all these kids that have nothing, it takes care of them and it brings me joy knowing that I do that, I help those people in life day-to-day. I don’t do it for the accolades or anything. People assume I just play here [in England] and all I do is here but I care about my country and I’ll do as much as I can. The main thing is, it’s from the heart and I do it for my country and that’s all that matters to me.”

Zaha scored twice in the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations before the Ivory Coast went out in the quarter-finals, losing on penalties to eventual winners Algeria

Zaha made two friendly appearances for England in 2012 and 2013 but in 2016 announced he had switched international allegiance to the country of his birth and he hopes he can inspire the next generation of youngsters in the Ivory Coast.

“I’m just a normal guy whose managed to make it from nothing, managed to become a footballer, realise my dream and help back home,” added Zaha. “Anyone can do it. You can come from nothing, you can come from this village and then be blessed and then help people. I’m just proud to be from Africa. It’s massive to me, I’m proud because my country’s known for players such as Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure, Didier Drogba, there are many names that I could name, it’s massive and I’m glad I can be part of that footballing culture.”

“For me personally I feel like I made the right decision [in choosing the Ivory Coast] because I’m trying to leave a legacy for my country. My objective is to firstly win Afcon [Africa Cup of Nations] because the team’s so talented and we have the ability to do that and also to get through to a World Cup and go as far as we can. We’ve got so many talented players, we just need to buckle down and work together.”

ekenyan