IIt was the farewell letter that Crystal Palace supporters hoped they would never have to read. Wilfried Zaha’s emotional message posted on Instagram just after 10pm on Sunday finally marked the end of a journey that began when he joined Palace’s youth team more than 20 years ago.
“I’ve worn the Palace shirt since I was eight years old, it’s literally my second skin and I always gave it my all when I wore it,” Zaha wrote. “I grew up two roads away from the bright lights and noisy crowds of Selhurst Park, not knowing that I would be at the center of it all one day and have the amazing journey I had with this amazing club. So I would say to my eight year old self, dream big and only you can kill your dream.
After months of speculation over his future, Zaha’s decision to join Galatasaray will have come as a surprise to most. But as the Turkish side prepared to kick off their Champions League campaign against Lithuanian side Zalgiris in the second qualifying round on Tuesday night, the Ivory Coast striker decided a move to Istanbul was his best option to play in Europe’s elite club competition after nine years of keeping his boyhood club afloat in the Premier League.
Few at Palace would resent this opportunity after serving them with such distinction. Born in Abidjan but raised in south London, Zaha was 17 when he made his debut as a substitute against Cardiff in March 2010. Palace survived relegation to Ligue 1 on the final day of that season and were minutes from liquidation when a consortium led by current chairman Steve Parish stepped in the following month, leaving fans desperate for a new home hero.
Zaha proved to be their salvation, scoring the first of his 90 goals for Palace on his full debut against Leicester and eventually helping the club return to the Premier League for the first time in eight years in 2013. in friendly matches.
Zaha failed to make his Premier League debut under David Moyes and was welcomed with open arms by Palace in August 2014 on an initial loan. His return to Selhurst Park became permanent a few months later and, nearly 300 more appearances later to take his palace tally to 458, the rest is history. While managers have come and gone as Palace bucked the trend of previous short spells in the Premier League, Zaha – who switched allegiance to the Ivory Coast in 2016 after receiving no further chances from Hodgson and ignored by Gareth Southgate – was the driving force behind the most sustained spell of success in the club’s history.
Although Zaha suffered muscle injuries last season which limited him to 28 appearances and forced him to miss the end of last season, he will be difficult to replace – and not just for his goals. The 30-year-old’s departure will leave a huge void which Palace must act quickly to fill, especially with clubs looking for some of their other prized assets. Zaha’s natural heir Michael Olise has attracted interest from Chelsea and Manchester City despite being sidelined for the start of the season with a hamstring injury, and Eberechi Eze is yet to agree a contract extension after making his England debut in June.
Serious offers for coveted defenders Joachim Andersen and Marc Guéhi could also arrive in the coming days, with Parish under pressure to spend as he tries to fund the construction of a new main stand. Zaha’s offer of £200,000 a week from Palace for four years which would have taken him within months of his 35th birthday was made in October. Further talks have reportedly taken place in recent days as he completes his recovery from a hamstring injury at the training facility despite his contract expiring at the end of June.