Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Zaha Era Ends At Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace competed for a ninth consecutive year in the Premier League last season, finishing in 11th position above London rivals such as Chelsea and West Ham. It has been an unprecedented run of success for the club from South London which is often overshadowed by much larger and storied London rivals. Three men have been principally responsible for the Eagles’ success and the individual most associated with the club and the best player in its history now departs.

Wilfried Zaha has signed a contract with Galatasaray to compete in the Turkish Super Lig next season. The 30-year-old Zaha will finally get a chance to play Champions League football after close to a decade of sometimes seemingly single handedly keeping his boyhood club in the top tier.

Zaha grew up just blocks from Selhurst Park and joined the club’s academy program at just eight years old. He would go on to make 458 appearances and score 90 goals for the Eagles. The winger established himself as one of the Premier League’s most dynamic players and became a talisman for the small London team and its legendary Selhurst Park supporters. Zaha would star in the 2012/2013 Championship division playoffs which earned Crystal Palace promotion to the Premier League as he scored twice in the semifinal versus arch-rival Brighton and drew the penalty which secured a 1-0 win over Watford in the final to clinch Premier League play for the Eagles. They have stayed up ever since with Zaha being the standout on an uneven roster reflecting the budgetary exigencies of a small club.

Chairman Steve Parish, a lifelong Crystal Place fan, is the second of the triumvirate which has led Crystal Palace to its era of success. Parish led a consortium in 2010, shortly after Zaha made his first senior appearance with the club, which saved Crystal Palace from administration. Parish would sell Zaha to Manchester United in what would be Sir Alex Feguson’s last major signing for the Red Devils. Zaha would return to the Eagles after failing to find favor with Ferguson successor David Moyes. Zaha would flourish upon his return to the Eagles and there would be irritation by the winger at Parish’s subsequent refusals to sanction transfer opportunities for Zaha with other Premier League clubs such as Arsenal. Zaha now gets his chance to play on Europe’s biggest stage, the Champions League, with the Turkish giants on a free transfer with Parish’s blessings and thanks.

The third member of the Crystal Palace triumvirate, Manager Roy Hodgson, now has problems. Hodgson, like Zaha and Parish, has long term affections for the club where he attended Selhurst Park matches as a youth. The esteemed manager with top tier and international credentials responded to Parish’s siren call when the club’s league status was threatened. Manager Frank De Boer was failing miserably, and relegation beckoned when Hodson took the reins in September 2017. The oldest manager in Premier League history guided the Eagles to safety as they became the first Premier League club to survive after losing its first seven matches. Hodgson would leave after the 2020/21 season but again rode to the rescue last season when the club faltered under Manager Patrick Vieira.

Hodgson now faces a new Premier League season without the club’s all-time greatest player. Worse yet, the club’s upcoming young players are at risk of being poached even before reaching their potential. Chelsea has submitted a bid for winger Michael Olise and is rumored to have an interest in Eagles center back Marc Guehi, a former Chelsea academy player. Eberechi Eze, who flourished under Hodgson last season and got his first call up for the England national team, is also a target for bigger clubs. How Parish and Hodgson navigate the remainder of this transfer window could decide whether the club stays up this season.

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