Wilfried Zaha: Crystal Palace Winger Is England's Latest Diamond in the Rough

Ryan Bailey@ryanjaybaileyFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 10:  Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace shoots during the Carling Cup Semi Final First Leg match between Crystal Palace and Cardiff City at Selhurst Park on January 10, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

With relegation battles and financial dire straits threatening Crystal Palace's existence, life as an Eagles fan hasn't been easy in recent years.

This season, however, the Selhurst Park faithful have plenty to be cheerful about. The South London side are 13 league games undefeated, and since manager Dougie Freedman defected to Bolton, new boss Ian Holloway has led the charge to the top of the Championship.

One of the biggest catalysts in the Palace resurgence is Wilfried Zaha, an exceptionally gifted winger, who, like most of the squad, is a product of the youth system.

With skills that belie his 20 years, Zaha is the most exciting player in the Football League right now. "He's just too good for you," sing the Eagles fans every week, clearly aware that "Wilf" is a cut above anything else in the Championship right now. Even the billboards of South London concur.

Zaha has earned five caps for England's U21s, and this week will make his debut in Roy Hodgon's squad to face Sweden, becoming the first Championship player to make the cut since 2010.

Yet his call-up is wrought with controversy: the 20-year-old was born in the Ivory Coast and, despite his England youth appearances, is eligible to play for the elephants.

Wilf reportedly received a call from Didier Drogba urging him to play for the Ivory Coast in the upcoming Africa Cup of Nations (via BBC), and many believe this friendly call-up is merely a cynical attempt to narrow the precious youngster's international options.

One of those leading the charge of Zaha disillusionment is a player who may feel he was denied his fair crack of the England whip, Joey Barton. The controversial Marseille midfielder has taken to Twitter to say he is "baffled" by the Palace man's inclusion above more established Premiership players like Kevin Nolan.

Regardless, Zaha has accepted his place in the Three Lions squad and has joined up with training ahead of their trip to Stockholm.

This can only be a positive move for Team England. They now have a player who excites every time he touches the ball. A player who can string passes together and can win one-on-one situations. A player who has cast aside the hotheadedness of his early career to display maturity beyond his years. A player with vibrancy and tenacity, who will help to herald a new generation of England players, forcing out the 'old guard' who have lost their passion for representing their country.

The Championship's diamond in the rough has also attracted plenty of transfer attention, with Arsenal reportedly leading the a charge for his signature in the January transfer window (via Daily Mail).

Palace co-owner Stephen Browett, however, has already stated that he will not entertain offers lower then £20m (via Goal.com), reasoning that Zaha's help in guiding the Croydon club back to the Premiership could earn them up to £100m.

The Championship leaders may struggle to hold onto their prize asset, as the "He's just too good for you" chant will ultimately become a self-reflexive reality.

Whether he ends up in the Premiership in a blue and red shirt next August, or a winter transfer draws him away from Selhurst Park, one thing is clear: Wilfried Zaha is a name you will be hearing a lot more of.