Wilfried Zaha is booed and jeered at every ground he goes to across the country. Whether he’s even played a game against the team he’s playing, or regardless of his record against them, boos ring around the ground every time the winger touches the ball. ‘Diver,’ ‘cry baby,’ ‘I hate him with a passion!’ But why? If Zaha was as bad as people like to pretend, these fans would not care.
Arsenal away, 2018/19 season. Zaha drives in to the box and flicks the ball past Calum Chambers, the defender once again dangles out his leg for the winger to fall over. Martin Atkinson blows his whistle, free kick, yellow card Zaha. Luckily for the Ivorian, VAR was in play this day, and the decision was overturned, the screen showed a blatant foul, forcing the referee to overturn his decision, received to a mocking jeer for the travelling Palace fans and a regretful thumbs up from Zaha.
So why does the winger get these torrents of abuse from opposition fans? A tricky winger who draws a ridiculous number of fouls – consistently one of the most fouled players in the league – and one who is outspoken and reactive enough on the pitch for the fans to count his reactions towards them as ‘bites.’ Perhaps the reactions he gives spur on the opposition fans to give him this abuse knowing they could see a reaction.
Wilfried Zaha has also picked up his fair share of praise from those within the game. Both Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Milner state Zaha as the hardest opponent they’ve faced, which, coming from players who have faced the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar, is extremely high praise for the Ivorian. Jurgen Klopp, widely regarded as one of, if not the best manager in world football, described him as ‘world class,’ and Pep Guardiola, another manager spoken of as the ‘best in the world,’ has spoken on multiple occasions about how ‘impressed’ he is with Zaha. Prestigious football clubs such as the likes of Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and Tottenham have all been heavily linked to Zaha over the years as well, so if some of the greatest minds and top scouts in the game, plus his direct opponents, can see how good he is – why do fans continue to pretend he’s nothing special?
The abuse Zaha gets in games has been acknowledged by the man himself, as he stated in 2018: “Fans give me abuse all the time. Nearly every team does that. If I was not a good player you would not feel like you need to boo me the whole game. Do that if it makes you feel better… It spurs me on as well, I do not mind it, they can boo me all day long.” The tricky Ivorian winger has also reacted to fans during games, creating an iconic image for himself, standing with his ears cupped towards the away end at Selhurst Park. So, as he says, continuing to boo him will just encourage him, he isn’t affected by it, and in fact welcomes it, yet fans of clubs up and down the country will continue to do so – whether they have any reason behind it or not. Zaha will continue to make fans look silly and to silence the boos, as he continues to show his worth and prove how much of a top player he is. As previously mentioned – whose footballing opinion would you trust more; Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, who see the world class footballer, or your average Watford fan who thinks Zaha is nothing more than a diver?
Boo Wilfried Zaha at your own peril.