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Geoff Thomas: Wilfried Zaha should choose England over Ivory Coast


FORMER Palace and England midfielder Geoff Thomas says Wilfried Zaha should choose to represent England at senior international level instead of Ivory Coast.

Thomas, who skippered Palace in the early 1990s and scored 35 goals in more than 200 appearances for the club, also believes Zaha has been on England's senior radar longer than people think.

"I've seen him play a couple of times this season against Cardiff City at home and Wolverhampton Wanderers away," Thomas said.

"At Wolves, I sat next to an England coach and it was obvious they had been tracking him for a while.

"He was the standout player that game and capped it off with two great goals out of nothing – that's the beauty of people like him - he's got potential to win a game by himself.

"I'd be surprised if he went down the Ivory Coast route because he's played at U19 and U21 levels with England.

"It's difficult to say at the moment because I'm sure the Ivory Coast are jumping up and down saying they want him as well.

"It's obviously his country of birth but he's been here since he was four years old, so I think what he's got to do is experience what's going on with the England camp and take what he feels in his heart.

"He can't have any regrets on the decision but to have a cap for any international country is special, so he's got to make sure he's doing everything for the right reasons."

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Zaha's call-up, not just because of his potential, but due to Palace's rise to the top of the Championship.

And Thomas thinks the pressure on him won't faze the youngster too much and he'll embrace the opportunity he had on Wednesday night to perform on the bigger stage more in the future.

"This is the test," he said. "People like Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen in the past were young kids wearing an England shirt and they just took it as a rite of passage.

"That's what good players do. They go on to a football pitch and they're not bothered who they're playing against or what shirt they've got on, they just want to play and show how good they are.

"From what I've seen of Wilf, I think he's in that category and has the ability to perform on any stage and the international stage is the next one up.

"He seems the sort of kid who knows where he's at and has confidence in his own ability but doesn't get carried away.

"People who are qualified have seen his potential, looked at him and seen he's a player for the future – you don't need to be an A licence coach to see that, all football fans can.

"A lot of my mates are Palace fans and he's the only name they've pretty much been talking about over the last year or so.

"I just hope he keeps learning, and being in the England camp is going to be a great help."

Zaha, himself, knows what can happen if you leave a club too early at a young age and Thomas believes he will fare differently to players who have moved on from Selhurst Park in the past.

John Bostock is the prime example, while Victor Moses has only just started playing at the highest possible level for Chelsea nearly three years after leaving Palace.

"I think Wilf is a credit to Palace behind the scenes with all the youngsters that are and that have been developed in the past," said Thomas.

"We've seen players who are still doing well in the Premier League. Some of them have moved too quick and it's taken a while for them to rise to their potential, and some have just disappeared.

"Victor Moses and Wayne Routledge have done it, so you just wonder who is next. Wilf has got the experience of what's happened to other players before him and he can learn from that.

"However, as soon as the big clubs come knocking on the door, it's the skill of the manager for keeping him motivated when you've got the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United looking."

Come January, Palace fans can expect the amount of speculation surrounding his future to intensify but Thomas says it would be in his best interests to help Palace win promotion rather than bench-warming for a big Premier League side.

"I think it's always easy for us to say his head won't be turned," he said. "It's down to his character and his experience of watching players at Palace leave too soon.

"If he went in January, he'll end up sat in somebody's squad rather than playing a major part in Palace's push for promotion.

"Fingers crossed, the club will be sitting in the position they're in now at the top. But I would say Wilf has all the cards in his hand right now and it's up to the people who advise him – hopefully that advice is the right advice at this stage of his career, then it's down to him."

And when looking at potential destinations for Zaha, should he decide to leave, Thomas highlighted one club in particular that has a good reputation with younger players playing under one of the best managers in the world.

"Manchester United signed Nick Powell from Crewe Alexandra and he's played a couple of games, but you can see he's a really good thinking and confident player," he said.

"I think at United, they're the sort of club who do nurture the players and not rush them through.

"If he went to another club, they might put him in straightaway and then it's a case of sink or swim then.

"Let's just see how he reacts after his England experience and then people might be talking differently about him."

Geoff Thomas was speaking exclusively to sports reporter Mark Ritson.

Geoff Thomas: Wilfried Zaha should choose England over Ivory Coast

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