It is something of a rarity for a Premier League manager to wish his best players would play more international matches, but Alan Pardew sees the England Under-21s as crucial to the continuing rehabilitation of Wilfried Zaha.
Now permanently back at Crystal Palace, after his unfortunate and brief move to Manchester United, Zaha had another excellent game on Saturday, but his manager admits there is a long way to go and he hopes the winger will feature in the Under-21 European Championship at the end of the season.
“I know [the Under-21s manager] Gareth Southgate very well and I’ll speak to him. Wilf has definitely found himself a little bit more and I think Gareth would like somebody in the squad who has the kind of quality that Wilf does. But he’s got to do it between now and the end of the year, and push for a place in that squad – that should be a goal for him,” the Crystal Palace manager said after Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Queen’s Park Rangers.
“I would love Wilf to be on that trip because that is a big tournament for us – particularly after the Champions League results this year. And England didn’t do well in the World Cup, so I think Gareth should have the best players available – and I’m hoping Wilf is one of them.”
With Yannick Bolasie on the left and Zaha on the right, Crystal Palace’s wingers are among the deadliest in the league. They are at the heart of everything the team does. But Zaha is not quite back to his exuberant best form of two years ago that attracted the attentions of Sir Alex Ferguson.
“[At the moment] I don’t see him smiling enough, and he takes everything like it’s a massive disappointment,” said Pardew. “He is a player that has been damaged. If he doesn’t get a pass, he can have a little sulk – not for long, just for a couple of seconds, but that’s enough in the Premier League for something to happen. And he does it in training too. I’m saying this publicly because I think it’s important that he understands that he needs to get rid of it.
“He played with a little bit more of a smile on his face today, and when you do that you can show a bit of exuberance and try things. I think the Man United thing came too early for a young player who, let’s be honest, didn’t get enough of an opportunity there. He needs to get rid of it now and move on and build his career again. There’s no reason, in my opinion, why at his age he can’t get back to Man United again as a seasoned player who knows how to deal with the situation better.”
There are already signs of improvement, however, according to Pardew. “I saw his interview on TV after the game and he looked happy – so he’s getting there. We’ve all been hurt in our careers. I’ve had the sack on two occasions – you get hurt and you’ve got to remould yourself and become better from a disappointment.
“You can find a million books on psychology, by businessmen like Richard Branson, all those sort of books, and they all say setbacks need not be a bad thing.”