By 90Min
October 13, 2017

Dazet Wilfried Armel Zaha, more simply known as Wilfried Zaha, arrived in the United Kingdom as an oblivious four-year-old boy way back in 1996, surrounded by his family consisting of five brothers and three sisters whilst having next to no grasp of the English language as he embarked on his new life in Thornton Heath. 

Zaha grew up in just an ordinary three bedroom house in south London, merely a stones throw away from Selhurst Park, a place that he would later call home as he found football to be his calling. 

Frequent trips to the local park with his many brothers and weekly matches with his Sunday league side Whitehorse Wanderers saw Zaha hone his skills with a ball at his feet, performing so excellently that he himself stated that he'd score 'up to six goals every game', form that prompted his manager to pick him up from his house to collect him for every game; such was his impact on the side. 

It was these consistently dominant performances every Sunday that caught the eye of Crystal Palace, and a 12-year-old Zaha duly joined the Eagles' academy looking to make a name for himself in the world of football.

The six years between joining the academy and making his first team debut proved to be the making of the quiet, skinny boy from Abidjan, as Zaha experienced the hardships of youth football first hand. 

"I had a hard time in the youth team. Another kid, Nathaniel Pinney, used to bench me all the time and I'd be so depressed. My mum would find me with my head buried in my pillow. But the stuff that would break my heart was I'd invite all my family to the game, expecting to start after being in the team in training all week, and then I'd be pulled and told: 'You were this close to starting.' I'd have my whole family outside waiting for me to perform but I'd be benched."

Jan Kruger/GettyImages

These setbacks tested the mercurial winger's mental attributes massively, but his response and belief in his own ability kept him going as well as the support of his large family. Zaha has previously stated that when he steps out onto the pitch, he never looks at someone and thinks they're better than him unless it was Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, a statement that could be perceived as big headed or carrying a stench of arrogance, but it is quite the opposite. 

Zaha's game is based wholly on confidence. In a recent interview with Gabby Logan on 'The Premier League Show', the 24-year-old said, "I'm a confidence player so when my confidence is high I'm able to do things that I didn't even think I could do. Having the fans sing 'he's just too good for you' and stuff like that it's like...these people proper love me."

This confidence invested in him from the Palace faithful that has seen him almost single handedly propel the south London club to an FA Cup final and the Premier League had deserted him during his spell at Manchester United. 

That quiet, polite boy from south Norwood found himself sat before Sir Alex Ferguson and Sir Bobby Charlton, duly becoming the legendary Scot's final signing at Old Trafford, and looked to have finally made it to the big time. 

However, tragically for 'Wilf', United's new £15m man found himself caught up in a transitional period at the club following Ferguson's departure, with his replacement David Moyes allowing Zaha just 28 Premier League minutes to prove himself on the biggest stage. 

Kitchee FC v Manchester United

As aforementioned, confidence is key for Zaha to perform, and he was entirely bereft of it due to his lack of gametime and struggles to settle into a new environment alone and away from his family for the first time. A disappointing loan spell at Cardiff ensued, and the once precocious talent was in danger of fading into oblivion and winding up in the football league's gutters. 

In a move full of romance, Palace picked Zaha up off the floor and gave him a proper chance to strut his stuff in England's top flight with all the love and backing he'd ever need, and his performances echoed his claims of just how important having confidence was to him. 

Zaha picked up where he left off at Selhurst Park, the ground where his family used to wonder what was going on when the floodlights began to flicker on just down the road all those years ago, where his scintillating display's against England's finest prompting none other than Didier Drogba to call him in the hope of tying him down to Les Elephants over the England team. 


Four years had passed since Roy Hodgson - now of Palace himself - gave Zaha his maiden England cap, and the Ivory Coast born forward continued to terrorise full-backs to the tune of 'he's just too good to you' in the hope of receiving another cap, but to no avail. 

It all stems back to having confidence and feeling wanted, and after no phone calls or explanations from Gareth Southgate as to why his best professional season yet statistically hadn't merited at least a call up to his adopted nation's senior side, the winger opted to team up with the country of his birth after numerous attempts from them to capture his services. 

Wilf, as Palace fans love to call him, has now developed into a fully fledged Premier League and international footballer, but remains true to his roots amongst all the glitz and glamour the game offers. Zaha still continues to donate 10% of his wages to charity as he has done for many years, and even joined the fans down the local pub at the end of last season. 

That boy from Abidjan has become a native south Londoner, embracing everything that Palace fans want to see embodied in their players, and has stayed south London and proud throughout.

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