Wilfried Zaha has been shocked by his rapid rise, claims Ian Holloway


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The Independent Football

Wilfried Zaha may have been proclaimed as the latest saviour of English football, but Ian Holloway is worried that being in the spotlight may damage his development.

What should have been a wonderful week on the back of his call-up to the England national team for the friendly with Sweden turned slightly sour when they precocious 20-year-old found that being the centre of attention was a little too much for him.

A headline-grabbing quote in which he said that only Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are superior to him does not, according to Holloway, correctly portray Zaha's character.

The Crystal Palace winger was suddenly the most talked about man in football, with his looming decision of whether to play for England or the Ivory Coast, the land of his birth, becoming a dominant issue in the game.

"I think this has been a shock to him," explained Holloway. "It's a very difficult time for him at the moment as everything has happened at once.

"Some things have been said about him which aren't true – he wasn't hungry as a kid for example, and he has eight brothers and sisters, rather than seven.

"He isn't a confident young man. He is a very sheltered and quiet boy, and Dougie [Freedman, Holloway's predecessor] has done a great job in holding him back and not allowing him to answer questions. He doesn't want to talk about football, he just wants to play it.

"It's a crying shame the world doesn't know what Wilf is like but they will; he is honest, hard-working and a lovely kid. He comes from Croydon, he was born in a different country and is very proud of that country and he is a wonderful player who is improving. We have to protect him in a way where his innocence shines through."

Speaking after the 3-0 win over Derby County at home that keeps Palace top of the Championship, Holloway hoped the knock-on effect of Roy Hodgson's decision to give Zaha six minutes at the end of Wednesday's 4-2 defeat by Sweden could be that the youngster decides to stay in January, rather than being swallowed up by an Arsenal, Manchester United or Manchester City.

The club's owners say that offers of £20m may be rejected – and why should they consider accepting a bid for the best player in the Championship when promotion is valued at £100m? – and Holloway believes he can start to plan for the future with Zaha in his side. We have as good a chance of any side in this division of going up," he said.

"I had a chat with Wilf about this on Friday morning and it's all about the platform he has to play here with the team around him. No one can do anything on their own and Wilf knows that. He didn't get that call-up because he was so outstanding he does it on his own.

"I think he is at the right place. He will be good enough to have some choices, but that doesn't mean Palace won't be one of them. It is a fantastic place to be, and there is a contract that almost locks him in – though it's about his development."