The dispiriting end to Crystal Palace’s season was not confined to the pitch.
Roy Hodgson’s team finished the campaign with a solitary point in eight games and the manager’s downbeat admission that Palace’s local favourite is stepping up his annual efforts to leave.
Wilfried Zaha has personified Palace, with their counter-attacking pace and capacity to trouble the best. He is also willing to reject them.
“Wilf has made it clear, ever since I came to the club really, that he would relish a move,” Hodgson said. “If he feels he just does not want to be with us any more, that would be sad. We still like him very much, we can't make him like us.”
Zaha has been widely liked himself, by Arsenal and Tottenham, Everton and Borussia Dortmund, but yearly exit strategies have not brought a switch to a bigger club since his brief, ill-fated spell at Manchester United. At 27, he may be running out of opportunities to secure a move.
“I think this would be the best time for him to go,” said David Webb, the scout who discovered Zaha at 13. “He has been a fantastic servant to Palace and has been their talisman but if he wants to have a chance to play European football, or challenge for some sort of trophy, potentially he will need to move now.”
Zaha was a long-term project when United bought him in 2013, but Alex Ferguson’s last signing only got 28 minutes’ league football under his replacement, David Moyes. Now a winger with a rare skill-set – only Adama Traore and Allan Saint-Maximin dribble as much in the Premier League – would be more of a short-term signing.
“Whether he would be too old for Dortmund, I don’t know,” Webb said. “They seem to go for young players they can sell on, they like that business model whereas Wilf is now 27.
"Clubs would have to buy him knowing that, if they pay a premium and if they keep him for three years, at 30, he is probably not going to have that same premium. You are looking at clubs that need a signing to come in and impact now.”
The clock is ticking while other numbers are off-putting. Perhaps Palace have priced him out of a move. “He’s their main man,” Webb said. “They sold the right-back [Aaron Wan-Bissaka] last year to Manchester United for £50 million (Dh240m) but Wilf’s the one who can change a game and with most value. And there is always that premium on British-based players.”
Unai Emery wanted Zaha last year but Arsenal ended up with the younger Nicolas Pepe. Webb was part of Tottenham’s recruitment team in 2017 when they pursued Zaha and eventually bought the rather different Moussa Sissoko.
“It was unrealistic, more of a token bid, I think it was £12-15m and might have got a second bid up to £18m but Palace didn’t even entertain it. [Mauricio] Pochettino loves him as a player but Palace were asking for £70-80m which was never going to happen from Tottenham’s perspective.”
Whereas Chelsea and Manchester City are well-stocked on the flanks, Webb feels Zaha would still suit Spurs.
“Tottenham and Everton would be the two in England,” he said. “He could add to Tottenham. Wilf can play as one of the wide players as he does at Palace or out of position as a No 9.
"They could use that as an alternative attacking threat because certainly they missed that when Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son were out. Everton definitely need to strengthen in those areas.”
But amid the annual questions if anyone will pay the asking price, will he remain trapped at Palace?