Wilfried Zaha: Meteoric rise for gifted winger propelling Crystal Palace's climb


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The Independent Football

Wilfried Zaha's surprise call-up to the England squad for Wednesday's friendly in Sweden is the latest achievement for a exciting player who has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence.

After moving to London from the Ivory Coast with his parents as a child, Zaha joined the Crystal Palace Academy and quickly progressed through the ranks at Selhurst Park.

He made his senior debut against Cardiff in March 2010, aged 18, before establishing himself as a first-team regular. The winger was a virtual ever-present during the 2010-11 season and his impressive form in the Championship was rewarded with a call-up to the England Under-19 squad in February 2011.

Zaha continued turning heads under Dougie Freedman and signed a new five-and-a-half year contract last December amid interest from a host of Premier League clubs. Interest that only grew following a man-of-the-match performance in Crystal Palace's shock win over Manchester United in the League Cup at Old Trafford last season.

He was called up to Stuart Pearce's Under-21 squad in February and made his debut in a 4–0 win against Belgium before being voted the Football League's Young Player of the Year the following month.

Zaha, who celebrated his 20th birthday on Saturday by setting up the winner in Palace's 2-1 victory at Peterborough, has been a revelation this season and has played a key role in Palace's rise to the top of the Championship, with scouts from Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City all watching him.

Now widely regarded as the most exciting young player outside the Premier League, Palace co-chairman Steve Parish has publicly insisted it would take a £20m offer to part with Zaha, who has already made over 100 appearances for the club.

Didier Drogba last week made a personal phone call to Zaha, born in Abidjan, urging him to play for Ivory Coast and new Palace manager Ian Holloway said on Saturday: "It's just wonderful to see such an exhilarating and exciting player. When he's got the ball at his feet, God help you. Seriously, God help you."

After receiving his first invitation to join up with the Roy Hodgson's senior squad, Zaha took to Twitter, saying: "Wow, everything's happening so fast."